Boundary disputes – what to do before selling your home
Selling your home when you have an ongoing boundary dispute can be difficult. Some conflicts are easily resolved when one side (i.e. yours) is willing to concede the point or to pay up for repairs.
Some disputes, however, are not so easily or quickly fixed.
If there is (or has been) any boundary dispute affecting your property this article makes some recommendations for action before you sell.
You should enjoy a faster and easier sale process if you tackle these issues as soon as possible, and ideally before finding a buyer.
What is a boundary dispute?
A “boundary dispute” is loosely defined as any dispute between two neighbours that concerns the location, condition or responsibility for a wall, fence or other boundary line between their properties.
Perhaps a neighbour has moved his fence to encroach on your property. A neighbour may object that your new home extension has encroached on or damaged their property. A builder may have damaged the party wall between your house and next door.
More mundane disputes include where a boundary fence has blown down but neither side will accept the responsibility or cost of repair.
Can you ignore a boundary issue?
Keeping quiet about any dispute and hoping that a buyer doesn’t find out about it, or misrepresenting the facts, are not sensible (or usually legal) options.
A would-be buyer who learns of a dispute is likely to have second thoughts. They may pull out altogether. This could cause you to lose your own purchase and collapse a whole chain.
If the existence of the dispute only comes to light after the sale is completed, you could end up on the wrong end of expensive litigation.
Get a specialist’s advice before marketing your property
The first step should be to consult a solicitor. Solicitors may already be involved in the dispute, but it is advisable to consult a property-specialist solicitor too.
A property lawyer may be better placed to recommend the course of action most likely to ensure a successful sale.
In contrast, a litigation specialist might only focus on “winning” the dispute, rather than safeguarding your property’s future sale prospects.
The Property Information Form
The buyer’s solicitor will require you to complete an extensive Property Information Form. Giving false or misleading replies to the questions on this form can lead to a subsequent claim for misrepresentation.
Leaving a question blank may even cause a buyer to infer that there are problems. It is generally advisable to be clear and accurate in your answers.
Questions that you will need to answer
There are several questions on the information form relating to property boundaries and disputes, in particular:
- Is the seller aware if any boundary features having been moved in the last 20 years?
- Have there been any disputes regarding the property or a property nearby?
- Is the seller aware anything which might lead to a dispute?
The buyer’s solicitor will also expect the seller to confirm who owns (or has accepted responsibility for) which boundaries.
Your solicitor will be able to advise you on the completion of the form.
You must give details of any ongoing dispute. Information must also be given about any disputes known to the seller, even if they already been settled.
You should also include what detail you have about historic disputes between neighbours and the previous owners. Likewise information about potential future disputes may also be required.
Full disclosure will reduce the likelihood of something coming to light much later in the process, causing delays and risking the entire sale.
Other information to include
Information about other matters relating to your property’s boundaries may also be needed, even if you have not actually had a dispute with any neighbour.
Relevant information will include details of any notices and awards relating to party walls, and whether you have purchased any adjoining land or sold part of your garden.
Find all relevant documents as soon as possible
You may need to obtain documents or other papers to go with the form. Your solicitor will help with this.
Your solicitor will also be able to look over the property’s title, including the Land Registry title plan and possibly plans included in old deeds. These documents can help identify the location and ownership of boundaries.
Settled boundary disputes
A dispute that has already been settled, whether by agreement or litigation, should present less of a worry for buyers.
The buyer’s solicitor will still require full information about the settled dispute and its resolution, however.
It is especially important to provide evidence of any agreement with the neighbour on the location of boundaries.
It may be that, as part of the resolution, you agreed to transfer the disputed slice of land from one party to the other. If so, your buyer will want confirmation that a solicitor has necessary transfer deed has been lodged at the Land Registry.
Early solicitor’s advice will be even more necessary if a dispute is still ongoing when you want to sell.
In this situation, it may also be necessary to instruct a surveyor. A surveyor can advise on possible solutions to the ongoing dispute.
The surveyor’s report may also give you an idea of the effect the dispute would have on the property’s value and on the sale itself.
Get your solicitor to check your title plan before selling
Even if there is no ongoing dispute, it can be very helpful for your solicitor to check the title plan. Your solicitor can confirm that your property is accurately shown on the Land Registry title plan.
The buyer’s solicitor will perform the same checks. By instructing a solicitor early on, you will buy yourself more time to resolve any issues with the title.
It can be embarrassing if your buyer tells you that you don’t own part of the land you are selling!
The common thread that runs through this article is that early legal advice can make a critical difference. This is true whatever the status of a boundary dispute.
Whether the dispute is resolved, dormant or ongoing, your solicitor will help you in a number of ways.
Your lawyer will present the issues to a potential buyer in a comprehensive and accurate way without unnecessarily compromising the home’s saleability.
Your solicitor can also recommend options for you to resolve ongoing disputes. They will also ensure that this resolution is backed up by the necessary legal documents.
Instruct a solicitor as soon as possible
Even if a buyer is persuaded that a dispute has been (or will soon be) resolved, the delays inflicted by this additional investigation can still cause a chain to collapse.
The sooner your lawyer is aware of these boundary issues, the sooner they can resolve any disputes. Crucially, your solicitor will have reviewed and prepared the necessary paperwork to address a buyer’s concerns even before the buyer raises them.
These factors can reduce the risk that a buyer will pull out, reduce delays, and improve your chances of enjoying a successful sale.