Here at Stephen Charles Landscapes, we are often called in to replace a fence. Sometimes a client is just upgrading their garden as part of a full garden design. Sometimes a client just wants a new fence. At other times, the wind has blown part of a fence down, or a tree or some other object has damaged a fence panel, resulting in either partial or full fence replacements.
Who does my fence belong to?
We always advise that you calmly talk over any boundary issues with your neighbour first. You can often resolve issues between you much easier that way. However, it does help to know who owns a fence first!
Can I work out who owns the fence simply by looking at it?
There is a common misconception about “left-hand” or “right-hand” rules regarding fence ownership. This is not actually the case and can lead to incorrect information and then possible future legal problems.
Firstly, we suggest that you simply look at the existing position of the fence. You can often guess who owns a fence line by looking at where the frames are – the builders or property owners should have put the fence up facing away from their own property so their neighbour gets the 'good' side. This should be repeated with the neighbour on the other side, so each home has one 'good' side and one 'bad' side.
'Good' Side (Front)
'Bad' Side (Back) - complete with our notes for our clients
Looking can give you further clues - walls/fences are most likely to have been built on land that belongs to the boundary’s owner, with the edge of the wall marking the actual boundary. However, please do note this is not always the case, as builders often build over. We recently worked on a fence where we had to remove part of a deck as the builders had built into the neighbour's land.
If you're erecting a new fence and perhaps are concerned about the bad side look, we suggest using either two fence panels on both sides of the two properties, or to look at trellising over it.
Look at your property paperwork
To be legally sure, however, you will need to check the title deeds for your house.
If you own your property, you should find a copy in your paperwork. If you are renting, then ask your Landlord. If the information is not listed on the title plans, you'll have to check the plans that are registered with the Land Registry. It is best to check your own paperwork from the time of purchase, as the Land Registry do charge a small fee.
In England and Wales, there is no obligation for boundary ownership to be specified on the title deeds. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the rules are different, so please check.
When looking at the plans, the ownership is indicated by a “T” marked on the plans on one side of a boundary.
• If the “T” is written on your side of the boundary, you're responsible for maintaining it.
• If there's an H (although actually it's two joined Ts), the boundary is the joint responsibility of both parties.
If you have a joint boundary and you have a party fence, you’ll have to speak to your neighbour and work out what you want to do, such as taking it in turns to care for your fencing. You can buy out your neighbour – however, you must go through a proper, legally recorded sale process to make this official.
What if there are no records in my paperwork?
Occasionally, there will be nothing documented in either your own records or the Land Registry, in which case you can undertake a search of the Registry of Deeds who hold records of unregistered land.
If there are no records there, then you will need to consider a boundary agreement. This will put everything down on paper and can officially be recorded as an ongoing legal document, saving future owners the hassle of a fencing dispute. Working this out between yourselves is often the smartest move; however, it is wise to consult a Solicitor or Conveyancing expert and also to check the extent of the agreement’s powers.
Do I need to have a fence?
There is no legal obligation to have a fence between properties unless this is specified in:
1/ the title deeds, or
2/ you have pets such as dogs (although this is a grey area legally).
If a fence that a neighbour is legally responsible for blows down into your garden, then they are responsible for removing the damaged fence from your land, but they do not actually have to replace it.
My neighbour will not repair/replace the fence - can I do anything?
If the fence is the responsibility of your neighbour and they will not repair or replace it, then there is not much you can do to change their mind.
My neighbour owns the fence, I want to paint it - can I ?
Only with your neighbour's permission.
Remember that any paint/stain that you apply is likely to slightly bleed through to the other side of the fencing. So always consult your neighbours when thinking about this.
You are not technically allowed to hang items from your neighbour’s fence or lean things against it, unless you have been given permission from your neighbour to do so. It's unlikely that your neighbour would object to you growing climbing plants up your side of the fence, but remember that in time plants can become heavy and may affect the structural integrity of the fence.
How high can my fence be?
This is down to the planning policy. Generally, your rear garden fences are allowed to be up to two metres high, and one metre high on front fences; but your local authority planning office will be able to confirm this.
Can anyone help to resolve a boundary dispute?
Resolving any disputes directly with a neighbour is always the best option.
The Land Registry website has lots of useful information too which may help.
Your local council planning department should be your next source of help.
If all else fails, consult with a solicitor for legal advice to resolve the dispute.