What to Do if a Neighbour Won’t Fix a Fence
What can landlords do when the neighbours have no boundaries or the fence blows down?
Neighbourly disputes are familiar sources of friction, especially when one side feels unfairly treated over the cost of putting things right.
Everyone’s taught to love their neighbour, but sometimes it’s difficult when you are both arguing with each other. And resolving the problem is not always easy and means resorting to a legal remedy that adds cost and stress to an already tense situation.
Cost of repairing a fence
Wooden fences are the most popular and come in several types, with panels and a close board the most popular.
Whatever the construction style, all wooden fences are susceptible to the same damage from mould, rot and insects. Panels tend to suffer a lot from wind damage, while posts deteriorate from being buried in the ground over time.
The average cost of repairing a wooden fence ranges from £40 for a new post to £1,839, according to the website for finding tradesman CheckaTrade. The average price is £940.
Landlords can reduce the risk of paying for expensive repairs by buying concrete posts and installing gravel boards, and this makes the initial outlay more costly but should reduce repair costs over time. The excellent news is HMRC will let you put the cost of any like-for-like repair through your books to set off against rental profits for the year, which reduces the amount of tax you pay.
However, any improvement, like replacing a wooden fence with a brick wall, is a capital cost and can only be reclaimed when you sell the property when it is offset against capital gains tax.
What to do if talking fails
The first step in resolving a shared boundary dispute is always trying to negotiate a fair and reasonable solution with your neighbour. But not every neighbour is fair and reasonable, especially when they must put up some cash.
If talking fails, the next step is to look at the property deeds, although these are rarely helpful and generally, your deeds are not binding on your neighbour.
The Land Registry generally has a map with the title documents with your property marked in red. A ‘T mark’ on the plan indicates who is responsible for each boundary.
A good idea is to ask your lawyer to establish who owns the boundaries when you buy a property.
The common belief is a homeowner is responsible for their left side boundary unless they have a corner plot, but this is not always the case.
The title deeds are not always a hard and fast resolution – they may show you are responsible for maintaining the boundary or that the obligation is shared. Even if you can prove the damaged fence belongs to your neighbour, they don’t have to rush out to make repairs on your say so. If the fence is in such a state that it presents a danger and the neighbour refuses to make any repairs, you can report the problem to your local council.
The council can take enforcement action to force the neighbour to put matters right, but this is a time-consuming process that can take months or even years.
What the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 says about fence disputes
We are not party fence wall experts, but the question about adjoining fence repairs arises now and then. Below is a brief overview of adjoining fence repairs under the Party Wall etc. Act 1996.
Repair to a party wall or fence
Section 2 Party Wall etc. Act 1996 contains a procedure for a building owner to do particular works to a party wall or fence that runs along the junction line between adjoining properties.
Section 2(2)(b) gives the right to make good, repair, or demolish and rebuild, a party structure or party fence wall in a case where such work is necessary on account of defect or want of repair of the structure or wall.
Before making any repairs to a party fence wall, the building owner proposing the works must serve a 'party structure notice' on the adjoining owner containing:
- the name and address of the building owner;
- the nature and particulars of the proposed work; and
- the date on which the proposed work will begin.
If special foundations are required, extra information about the works must be included, see s.3(1)(b). The date the proposed works begin must not be less than two months. The notice ceases to affect if the works are not commenced within 12 months of service. The party structure notice is not required if the adjoining owner has written consent to do the job. Nor is it needed if any notice is served under any statutory provisions relating to dangerous or neglected structures.
A 'counter-notice' may be served by the adjoining owner, which may contain additional requirements for the build. See section 4 for details of what may be sought.
The counter-notice must:
- specify the works required to be executed and shall be accompanied by plans, sections and particulars of such works; and
- be served within one month, beginning with the day the party structure notice was served.
The works in the counter-notice must be followed unless the works would:
- be injurious;
- cause unnecessary inconvenience; or
- cause unnecessary delay in executing the works under the party structure notice.
Suppose written consent is not provided within 14 days to either the first party structure notice or a counter-notice. In that case, it is deemed to be in dispute (s.5). In the event of a dispute (or deemed dispute), a surveyor can be appointed by both parties (or by one party if the other refuses to appoint), and the surveyor can settle the dispute. See section 10 for complete details.
Where consent to do the works is given, the expenses shall be defrayed by the building owner and the adjoining owner in such proportion as has regard to (s.11(5)):
- the use which the owners respectively make or may make of the structure or wall concerned; and
- responsibility for the defect or want of repair concerned if more than one owner uses the structure or wall.
In most cases, this would be a 50/50 split.
New build on the line of junction
Section 1 of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 applies if nothing is built on the line of the junction, but the building owner wishes to build, including a party fence.
At least one month before intending the building work to start, the building owner must serve on any adjoining owner a notice that indicates a desire to build and describes the intended wall or fence. If the adjoining owner serves a notice consenting within 14 days:
- the wall shall be built half on the land of each of the two owners or in such other position as may be agreed between the two owners; and
- the expense shall be from time to time defrayed by the two owners in such proportion as has regard to the use made or to be made of the wall by each of them and to the cost of labour and materials prevailing at the time when that use is made by each owner respectively.
If the adjoining owner does not consent within 14 days, the building owner may only build the wall or fence:
- at his own expense; and
- as an external wall or a fence wall, as the case may be, placed wholly on his land.
Fence and boundary dispute FAQ
My neighbours have put a trellis on my fence, what can I do?
If the fence is yours and you are responsible for paying for the maintenance, your neighbours should have asked permission to put up the trellis.
Speak to them about your concerns and try to resolve the problem amicably.
Who can help me prove to who a fence belongs?
The best way to prove who a boundary belongs to is to ask an expert surveyor to draft a plan for your lawyer, but this is expensive and may show you have no way to make your neighbour pay for fence repairs.
Does a Land Registry plan show who owns a fence?
No, the Land Registry plan is based on an Ordnance Survey map that shows general, not precise, boundaries. The scale of the maps and thickness of the lines drawn on them mean where the edge is marked could vary between 0.3 metres and 1 metre when measured out on land.
Can anyone talk to my neighbour on my behalf?
If you have tried to resolve your fence dispute without success, you could ask a mediator to referee rather than go to a lawyer. A mediator is a trained negotiator who will approach the problem impartially.
The mediator may charge a fee, but this is likely cheaper than consulting a lawyer or going to court. The service is offered by some councils or the Civil Mediation Council across England and Wales.
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In addition to any repair responsibilities explicitly set out in the tenancy agreement, common law and statute will imply terms to the agreement between landlord and tenant.