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The future for boundary rights of way disputes

The House of Lords have proposed a bill which has the potential to revolutionise the way in which boundary disputes, and rights of way disputes, are resolved.

About the Bill

Boundary disputes and identifying the full extent of a right of way are common issues, yet they don't always have a simple answer. Often these disputes are caused on the basis that the neighbours simply dislike one another. The fact that these neighbours have bad relations in close proximity to each other is often why these disputes can seem endless.

Therefore, it may not come as a surprise that the House of Lords have introduced the "Property Boundaries (Resolution of Disputes) Bill".

After an initial read it becomes clear that the intentions of this bill is to provide surveyors with similar, if not more, powers to that of the Party Wall Act 1996. This is because it is suggested that each party to the dispute can either instruct an "agreed surveyor", or they can instruct separate surveyors who will ultimately agree a third surveyor. However, unlike the 1996 Act, the decision of the surveyor(s) is final and is not a decision for the Courts to decide. 

How could this change disputes?

Naturally, this bill intends to keep these matters away from the Courts, but if it is introduced it could force each party into a battle of surveyors. This is because as soon as notice has been served on the other party, each party will have 14 days to appoint their preferred surveyor. Failure to do so allows the other party to choose a surveyor to act for both. Note, that their fees are also decided by the surveyor(s) once they provide their "award".

However, there is a query whether this bill would provide a practical outcome for disputes which are much more reliant on the legal documents, rather than the physical features of the properties. Additionally, what happens in a complex and urgent boundary dispute involving, for example, a ransom strip which is preventing building works? If these issues aren't addressed then it is very likely that this process will actually slow down rather than speed up these disputes.

It is interesting to note that this bill will only be applicable between one freeholder to another.  Consequently, it will have no effect for leaseholders, and it is assumed that they will have to be resolved as they currently are.

The bill has only had its first reading in the House of Lords, and has not been formally debated in the Lords with its second and third readings. Therefore, it is expected that there could be many changes to the bill even before it has been passed to the House of Commons for their review.

It is therefore very unlikely that this Act will be brought in until after the summer of 2018. Nevertheless, it is clear that if the bill is introduced, it will modernize the way in which simple boundary/ rights of way disputes are managed.

Contributor: Dominic Robson

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at September 2017. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms and conditions.

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