Can I force my neighbour to pay towards our shared garden fence?

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My boundary fence has fallen down and needs replacing but my next-door neighbour is refusing to pay. 

Is it not his responsibility to pay for half the upkeep cost? If so, are there any legal actions I can take to force his hand? 

Also, if I have to replace the fence at my own cost does that mean it becomes solely my responsibility going forward? Via email

Fencing battle: Boundary fence repairs are a bone of contention between many a neighbour

Fencing battle: Boundary fence repairs are a bone of contention between many a neighbour

Ed Magnus of This is Money replies: There is something about neighbourly disputes that unleashes the worst side of some people.

‘Love thy neighbour as thyself,’ is all well and good, but as the poet Carl Sandberg once added – just don’t take down the fence.

Replacing a fence can be a costly endeavour. The average cost of installation is around £100 per panel, according to the tradesman finding site My Builder.

If for example, you are looking to install eight panels, a cost of £1,000 is not unusual and that does not take into account the removal of the old fence to begin with.

Trying to find a fair and reasonable solution with your neighbour should always be the first course of action.

But not everyone likes being fair and reasonable – particularly when money is at stake.

If you feel your neighbour's garden fence is a danger, you can report this to your local council.

If you feel your neighbour’s garden fence is a danger, you can report this to your local council.

With discussion and compromise failing – the next line of attack is to check your paperwork.

Much will depend on whether there is any evidence within your title deeds alluding to who is responsible for the fence.

If it is shown that the fence is your neighbour’s responsibility, they won’t need to replace the fence just because you want them to.

Only if the collapsing fence is a danger and your neighbour is refusing to take responsibility, are you within your rights to report this to your local council who may be able to enforce your neighbour to take action.  

Many simply believe the left hand side of the fence is their responsibility – but there is no general rule, left or right. 

The fence could be solely your own responsibility or even shared.

If that is the case, you may have to take the moral high ground and repair the damage yourself.

We spoke to Mary Rouse, head of property litigation at Wright Hassall, Chun Wong, partner at Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors and Danielle Lewis-James, senior in-house legal counsel at Slater and Gordon, in trying to establish some clarity on the matter.

How do we establish who is responsible?

Mary Rouse replies: It’s an excellent question to ask your solicitor when you are buying a new house.

You could even go back to the solicitor who handled your purchase and ask them to check for you.

Don’t be caught out by the myth that the fence on the left-hand side as you look down the garden is always yours – this is nonsense. 

There is no hard and fast rule, unfortunately.

Chun Wong replies: You should check any copies of the title deeds or obtain an official copy of the title plan from the Land Registry.

These may reveal the extent of any boundary lines and also covenants setting out who is responsible for the upkeep of a boundary fence.

If there are T marks on the boundary line, this can show who is liable for the upkeep – if there is a T mark on both side of the boundary line, this indicates a party boundary with upkeep being a joint responsibility.

What if my neighbour is solely responsible?

Danielle Lewis-James replies: If it transpires that you are not responsible for the fence, then approach your neighbour politely and explain the situation to them.

No good will generally come from an aggressive or boisterous approach as this could just create a hostile living environment and will not get you very far.

The average cost of installing a fence is around £100 per panel according to MyBuilder

The average cost of installing a fence is around £100 per panel according to MyBuilder

Mary Rouse replies: If you establish that the fence is your neighbour’s responsibility, then I’m afraid it’s up to them whether they repair it or not.

You cannot force him to do so as there is nothing in the law that would compel him.

Boundaries don’t have to be fenced, unless there is something in your deeds that specifically says otherwise.

If the neighbour refuses to agree, you could erect a new fence alongside your neighbour’s fence – even touching it.

If you erect and pay for it, it would be your fence, and it would make sense for you to maintain it regardless of what the deeds might say about boundary responsibility.

What if the deeds specifically state the boundary must be fenced?

Chun Wong replies: In this case, if your neighbour is wholly or jointly liable to maintain the fence and does not do so, you can bring a claim to seek recovery of any costs incurred or seek an injunction to make them repair or replace the fence.

First, you should send your neighbour a pre-action letter setting out the facts of your case, giving them sufficient time and notice before any court proceedings are issued.

Danielle Lewis-James replies: If the cost of the fence is not great then the animosity created, and the risk of legal costs may simply not be worth the hassle.

That said, if the fencing was not your responsibility and particularly expensive to repair, then you may wish to obtain legal advice.

What if I am solely responsible for the fence?

Mary Rouse replies: If you discover that the fence is legally your responsibility, then you can ask your neighbour to share the cost, but you can’t force them to do so.

What if responsibility is unclear?

Chun Wong replies: If it is not clear who owns the boundary fence, ideally you should try and discuss ownership and future maintenance with your neighbour.

If you can come to an amicable solution this can be formally recorded in a boundary agreement for future reference and will also assist if either of you subsequently sold.

A boundary agreement can then be registered against the legal titles of both properties.

If I replace the fence can I rebuild it as I wish?

Mary Rouse replies: If you are replacing a fence, you should be careful about its height – local authority planning policy will determine how high a garden fence can be, but it’s usually no more than two metres in a rear garden.

You could put the fence posts facing into your neighbour’s garden, so you have the nice smooth fence on your side, and your neighbour couldn’t complain as long as you don’t go over the boundary line.

Another bone of contention can be what you do with the fence – can you or your neighbour hang plant pots or put trellis on the fence, for instance?

It comes down to who has paid for the fence – if it’s yours, then your neighbour should ask permission before hanging anything from it.

Danielle Lewis-James replies: If you were to repair the existing fence, you may wish to make it clear that this does not mean you are taking over responsibility for the fencing but are repairing or replacing the fence – otherwise you may have assumed responsibility for all future repairs. 

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