Property disputes

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Broadly speaking, property disputes take one of two forms. First, there are disputes concerning  the ownership of property between two or more owners. Secondly there are disputes concerning third party rights between neighbours. The latter are disputes where both parties can often become entrenched with costs and tensions rising significantly within a very short space of time. If you do get involved in a neighbour dispute it is vitally important that every reasonable attempt is made to negotiate or mediate a settlement so as to avoid escalating costs. Remember, while you are involved in a dispute this limits your ability to sell your property as it will have to be disclosed to a potential buyer. 

Boundary disputes 

“Who owns the boundary?” and “Where is the boundary?” are two frequently asked questions. Sometimes these questions can be answered by carefully going through ancient deeds and documents. However, in many cases either the deeds have been lost or they do not offer much assistance in which case you may need to get a surveyor to provide his opinion on where the boundary lies. 

If having considered the deeds and obtained the services of a surveyor agreement still cannot be reached, then you can take your dispute either to the county court or to the property chamber first tier tribunal. In both cases the costs which each party incurs will be significant and the losing party will end up paying a contribution towards the winning party’s costs, and the overall costs incurred may well exceed the value of the part of the property in dispute. 

TOLATA claims 

TOLATA is short for “The Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees act 1996”. This is a piece of legislation which is often used when a relationship between cohabiting partners breaks down and where a property which the parties lived in was in the name of one person only. 

For example, Jack and Jill develop a relationship and decide to live together. They both own houses but it is agreed that Jill will sell her house and move in with Jack. Jill sells her house  and with the proceeds of sale pay off Jack’s mortgage. However, nothing is ever put into writing and Jack’s property remains in his sole name. The relationship later breaks down and Jack tells Jill to leave and refuses to give her money back. 

There is no agreement in writing but using TOLATA Jill will be able to persuade a court that notwithstanding the absence of any written agreement and the fact that the property remains in Jack’s name, she has nevertheless acquired a “beneficial interest” in Jack’s property. The court will Make a declaration to the effect that Jill has acquired an interest in the property to the extent of her contribution and order either that the property is sold or that Jack pays Jill a sum of money representing her interest. 

Although the Act is of Assistance in resolving cohabitation disputes, a situation like Jill finds herself in could easily be avoided by Jack and Jill entering into a form of written agreement known as a “declaration of trust”. This would have provided both Jack and Jill with certainty over their positions. 


Easements are rights which a person (often a neighbour) has over somebody else’s land. Two typical examples of an easement are rights of way, or a right to drainage. They can be created by express agreement, they can be acquired over a period of time, or in some circumstances the law can imply an easement in somebody’s favour.  

Adverse Possession 

Most land is acquired either by sale and purchase, or by gift or inheritance. However, people can also acquire land or an interest in land by what is known as “Adverse Possession” or “Squatters Rights”. In order to obtain land or an interest in land in this manner you must show that you have used land for a specified period and in a particular manner. You must show that you have used or occupied the land without right or permission, in an open manner, and treated it as your own. If, after the specified period of time (which depends upon the type of right that you are claiming) no steps have been taken by the owner of the land to evict you then you can apply to the land registry to have your interest registered. 

Often an application for adverse possession will be opposed. If it is opposed, then the party making the application will need to prove his case by providing statements in the first instance. These will be filed with the tribunal which will list the application for a formal hearing where evidence will be heard and cross examined. The applicant must prove that on the balance of probabilities he has occupied the land  for the requisite period of time and in the requisite manner. 

Building Disputes 

People can save for many years to have that extension built at the back of the house, or they have to either re mortgage or take out expensive loans to pay for the work to be done. Thankfully, for the most part they are happy – even delighted with the end result! and the expenditure is seen as a worthwhile investment. You may however be in the unfortunate minority. The work may not be up to standard, the builders may damage your property, or the work may never end up being completed. 

Nothing we can do will take away the pain and misery of experiencing substandard building works, and the realities are that once you find yourself in this position either the builder goes bankrupt or just disappears making legal proceeding a waste of time. 

You can however limit the damage that a poor builder can cause. 

  1. Find out the builder’s trading style and establish exactly who you are dealing with. Are you dealing with a limited company? or is the builder an individual or a partnership. Remember, if you are dealing with a limited company that is an entirely different legal entity from an individual. If you are dealing with a company it may have no assets to pursue against. At least an individual may have a house which you can enforce a judgment against.
  2. Either way, establish what insurance cover the builder has: he should at the very least have public liability insurance. Ask to see aa copy of his insurance cover.
  3. Ensure that all of the specified works are confirmed to you in writing as is the price for the works and if you are paying by stages be clear exactly how much is due and when by.     



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