Can our neighbour install a cat-height electric fence?
Property Clinic: Our cat, a pivotal family member, allegedly soils his garden
“I have recently been involved in a dispute with a neighbour over my cat entering and allegedly soiling his garden.” File photograph.
We live in a small housing estate comprising nine bungalows in a large town. I have recently been involved in a dispute with a neighbour over my cat entering and allegedly soiling his garden. Recently I was outside petting our cat – who is very much a pivotal member of our family – when I noticed an electric fence which has been installed between our garden and his. The fence runs the perimeter of the side of our property that leads to his. It is about 1ft off the ground – cat height. My older sister has two young children who regularly visit my mother and play in the garden. It would seem that part of the fence encroaches on our property and is not entirely confined to his property. What are my rights in this regard? I cannot conceive how it is lawful for him to do this?
From the question there appears to be no issue with the boundary per se, it seems the real issue is with the cat, its movements and a low electric fence that encroaches on a part of your property.
There are number of ways that you may deal with the encroachment and the nuisance caused by the cat. Perhaps speaking with your neighbour is the easiest at first as you can address all your concerns by way of conversation and establish if your neighbour is willing to hear and understand your point of view.
An electric fence is not a toy nor is a shock from one insignificant as they can be rather nasty. They are routinely used by farmers to manage livestock but are not particularly suited to an urban setting where unsuspecting adults, young children and animals may come into contact with them.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the UK states that “All electric fences must be installed and operated in a way that ensures there is no electrical hazard to people, animals or their surroundings. The fence construction must not risk entanglement of animals or people.” That would appear to be good common-sense advice.
Your neighbour might not be aware that the fence, its position (or indeed the cat) is causing you such worry. He might be able to move the fence safely into his property and you will both save on surveys and legal fees. If your neighbour is unwilling to move the fence, then you may wish to consider other options such as consulting your solicitor for legal advice and a geomatics surveyor for the purpose of conducting a ground truth survey.
A geomatics surveyor will measure your property. S/he will do a ground truth survey, which measures and records relevant features in and around your property, at the time of survey. The findings will then need to be compared to your Deed Map to establish if the two concur and corroborate your existing belief as to where exactly your property ends and your neighbours commences. Before asserting where the “exact” boundary is, it is best that there are no spatial discrepancies’, that you may be unaware of, in existence as they may cause unnecessary ill will that can be avoided. Depending on the Deed Map and all shown thereon, it may be the case that defining the “exact” boundary will be difficult. Deeds and deed maps can and do fall short on such critically specific information.
It is also important to remember that your “exact” legal boundary is a shared item. A legal boundary is a line of no width that distinguishes one property from that of another. Therefore, you cannot unilaterally impose it on your neighbour as they may have conflicting ideas or supporting documents.
Mediation is an alternative option that you may also consider, should you be unable to speak with your neighbour and wish to resolve the matter in a non-adversarial way. Mediation is a process in which an independent mediator will assist disputing parties in resolving their dispute in a collaborative and consensual manner, which may see your dispute resolved to your satisfaction.
Sarah Sherlock is a chartered geomatics surveyor, accredited mediator, and member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie