If you have ever found yourself involved in an argument with your neighbour over the boundaries of your property then you would know the frustrations of trying to resolve the dispute whilst keeping legal costs to a minimum. If the matter reaches court then your legal costs may end up being far more than the value of the dispute itself.
To manage these cases and minimise costs and court proceedings, the Boundary Disputes Protocol (‘The Protocol’) was issued in September 2017. This is a voluntary tool that aims to provide neighbours involved in a boundary dispute with an alternative process to avoid expensive court proceedings, yet still reach an agreement on the boundary issues. The Protocol narrows the issues to help resolve disputes and ultimately save on legal costs.
The Protocol warns that boundary disputes often involve legal interpretation and the input of a surveyor which end up costing more than the value of the land you are arguing over. There is merit in mentioning this at the outset so that neighbours do not underestimate the costs of unnecessarily exacerbating matters.
The Protocol provides a framework for neighbours to follow in terms of ideal timescales and relevant information to exchange. It encourages them to negotiate or mediate where appropriate and possible, and that they may risk being penalised at court where they fail to do this. It says that relevant documents and evidence which detail information about the physical features of the land must be exchanged, for example; photographs, HM Land Registry official copies and plans and perhaps a surveyors’ report.
It then explains the rules surrounding the use of single/joint experts and the timescale within which to do this. The expert(s) would be required to produce a report of the issues within a set time. Following this, the neighbours should meet on site with their surveyors present to see if they can compromise on their position. Or alternatively the neighbours may want to agree to appoint a surveyor on a joint basis and split the costs in doing so (this would be cost effective).
At the face of it, the Protocol sets out a clear structure which, if followed by neighbours, should save time and legal costs and ensure that only complex matters reach court.
However, in order for this to be of real benefit, people must actually know of the Protocol to make use of it. Therefore the value of the Protocol has been questioned over whether one would become aware of its existence at an early enough stage.
As a result when initially advising a client on a boundary dispute matter one of the issues we shall draw to his/her attention will be the Protocol with advice on how it could be used. It may seem an attractive initial option to resolve neighbour disputes without the need to incur costs that may become disproportionate.