The RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) has recently launched a Neighbourhood Dispute Service to help residents overcome costly legal fees by settling the disagreement out of court.
I thought it might be of interest to look at some examples of neighbourhood disputes that tend to arise and the implications of such arguments.
As an accredited mediator, I helped to negotiate a settlement to a case where there was a dispute over a shared drive; one neighbour had right of way of the land in the ownership of the other. During the mediation, I enquired about the reason for the action to put impediments in the right of way and cause difficulty for the neighbour to gain entry in to their property. It transpired that the toddler of the neighbour played in the garden and they were fearful of the young teenager next door driving at speed through the right of way, causing injury. Some time and many costly legal fees later, the case was headed to court and mediation proposed. The negotiated settlement resolved the issue by communicating the concerns, although it could not stop a large legal bill being paid.
This is not untypical. Another case heard at court involved a neighbour who vacuumed their wooden floor, with the neighbour of the flat below pursuing an action for an injunction and nuisance. The legal costs went into five figures for each party. In another case the width of an access road was disputed – the matter was resolved at the court hearing, but at a few hundred thousand pounds in legal costs. In both of these cases, the judges criticised the fact neither party had been referred to mediation as a low-cost alternative to overcome the dispute.
Another increasingly common cause of dispute is the location of a boundary between properties. This is a very expensive argument to have with your neighbour as any legal costs incurred can quickly escalate. Boundaries differ and can move over time and this obviously causes confusion for residents. The mistaken assumption is that Land Registry plans are highly accurate, when they are actually indicative. Even the conveyance plans on which the Land Registry plan is based can be ambiguous and need determination.
Planning disputes occur when one neighbour wishes to extend their property; yet legal restrictions make it impossible for the owner to do so. For example, there have been occasions when the owner of a single house wishes to split the site and sell the land to build another house, yet the deed contains a restrictive covenant preventing the site being used for more than one house. Disputes also arise where a new building is erected which restricts the amount of natural day light the neighbouring property receives.
All these examples involve emotions running high and without good communication, the cost and reason for the dispute may become lost .
The RICS’ Neighbour Dispute Service offers a low-cost and effective way of resolving these matters.
Application is made to RICS by one or both parties, whereafter an independent professional with relevant knowledge and experience of the dispute will be appointed.
The expert will then use one of three stages to resolve the dispute.
The region is also well-served by mediators who can act in private to help both parties resolve a dispute quickly.
:: Kevin Carrick, of JK Property Consultants, is the RICS North East Policy spokesman