My neighbour cut part of my boundary wall without asking. What can I do?

Property Clinic: Proving ownership is the first step in resolving a boundary dispute

Where a dispute over a boundary arises, an informal approach can help to avoid escalation. Photograph: iStock

Where a dispute over a boundary arises, an informal approach can help to avoid escalation. Photograph: iStock

 

I have a problem with a boundary wall. Is it legitimate for a neighbour to cut part of my boundary wall to erect a concrete post and wooden fence without my permission? They didn’t consult or inform me about the work which they carried out.

I approached their workmen as they started to cut and demolish the wall and they ignored me. I asked them to stop a second time only to be ignored again. Can they do this?

Patrick Shine writes: From your description it appears that your neighbour and the workmen adopted a somewhat aggressive stance in response to your requests to stop the removal of part of the wall.

If the wall is located on your property, your neighbour has trespassed on your property in addition to damaging your property, which is illegal. You would be entitled to have the wall reinstated. To resolve the matter, either amicably or if forced to consider litigation, you should first obtain all available evidence to demonstrate that the wall is on your property. Evidence of ownership is necessary if you wish to resolve matters, especially if your neighbour maintains an uncooperative stance.

If the wall was originally constructed at the same time as other features on your property, ie house, shed, adjoining boundary wall, etc, using the same construction pattern and materials, this may support your claim to its ownership. Photographic evidence of construction details would be helpful.

The deed map attached to your original property title deed, and/or dimensions in the deed are the definitive evidence of the extent of ownership. However, many deed maps are not sufficiently detailed to be definitive. If your property is registered, you should obtain a copy of the folio and Land Registry map. This map is indicative only and therefore does not show definitive boundaries.

Assistance

However, part two of the folio is likely to contain an instrument number. This instrument, which can be obtained from the Land Registry, contains documents used to register your property in your name. It may therefore include a deed map.

You may need the assistance of a chartered geomatics surveyor to assist in the sourcing of some documents, to interpret maps and relevant information, and to take measurements and prepare a dimensioned map for verification. A short report from your surveyor would be helpful.

You should record dates and details of your conversations with your neighbour and the workmen and take photos of the boundary changes. When in possession of all available information, including your surveyor’s report, you should present these to your solicitor and seek legal advice.

If it transpires that the wall is a party wall, ie constructed on the legal boundary line such that the wall is partly in your property and partly in your neighbour’s property, you both have shared responsibility. In such case, your neighbour must have your consent before substantially interfering with it, such as removing part of it. Irrespective of the extent of your ownership in the wall, your solicitor will advise on the best course of action.

This advice may include an informal approach to your neighbour in an effort to resolve the issue by explaining the surveyor’s findings and also to avoid escalation. Your position will be considerably strengthened if you have evidence of ownership and have obtained legal advice. Your objective should be to resolve it without litigation, if possible.

Patrick Shine is a chartered geomatics surveyor, a chartered civil engineer, and a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie