who is responsible for fixing my fence or wall

Who is Responsible for Fixing a Fence or Wall – Me or My Neighbour?

The issue of who owns a fence or a wall in a garden, and whether you or your neighbour should be responsible to  fix it when it blows down or needs repair, can be a tricky one says David Lawrenson of www.LettingFocus.com. And these boundary issues can lead to fallings out with neighbours.

When it gets really windy for a few days or weeks, most people just shrug their shoulders and put their face into the wind. But for landlords like me, I know that, sure enough, I can expect a call about a fence that has blown down on at least one of my properties somewhere.

I have one property I let out on the coast in Kent – and I know from experience that is it in an area that has much stronger wind gusts than we have in London. And so, it is always proving to be the property that is most vulnerable to gales. Next door to my place there, is a neighbour who is an old retired chap, who lives with his wife. They are both in their 80s – and as he always reminds me, “are dependent on a pension.”

Who is Responsible for Fixing a Fence or Wall – What Does the Sellers Questionnaire Say?

My tenant is a real sweetie who has been my tenant for 15 years. She just about “gets on” with this neighbour. The neighbour’s view is that it is for “Muggins the Landlord” – i.e. Me, who has responsibility to repair the fence. He says that the person who used to own my property always did the fence on our side – and repaired it. Unfortunately, I have no way of validating this assertion because it was a probate sale back in 2006 – and with the owner being deceased, there was no one available to fill out a Sellers Questionnaire.

But even if the person who sold to me had said that they were indeed responsible, would that matter anyway? Actually, maybe, but possibly not. Because to find out whether you or your neighbour is responsible for repairing or replacing a wall or fence along the boundary between you, one first needs to check your own title documents, (title plan and title register) – as there may a statement in there, though it is very common for there not to be. You can download these for £3 from the Land Registry. If your own title documents are not clear, the next action is to check your neighbours title plan and register.

Who is Responsible for Fixing a Fence or Wall – Check The Title Plan and Regsiter and What it says about Boundaries

For more modern housing, especially those on modern housing estates, it is increasingly likely that the title plan attached to the first transfer of a newly built house will show internal “T” marks inside the boundaries belonging to the property. If the “T” marks are external it will indicate the boundary is the relevant neighbour’s responsibility to repair, if internal, it is your duty. “H” marks (effectively “T” marks on each side) will indicate that the boundary is shared.

So far so clear, but as this involves legal stuff, you’d just kind of know that there has to be more grey areas that this. (If all was crystal clear lawyers would have no way of making money!). So, it might be that an original fence has blown down and been replaced by a neighbour who was not originally responsible for it. By doing this, they have become the owner of the new fence, so it is their responsibility to repair it – though, in the absence of a legal obligation and clear proof of past intent, they cannot actually be forced to do so.

Who is Responsible for Fixing a Fence or Wall – Has Anything been Agreed in Writing?

So, again it’s back to the title documents. In the same way, neighbouring owners may agree to share the cost of replacing a fence that was previously the responsibility of one of them alone. So figuring out what they actually agreed in writing in the past, goes a long way towards what responsibilities they also took on for the future maintenance of the fence or wall. (In the rare case where animals are involved, it is the animal-owner’s responsibility to fence their livestock in – though this does not automatically prove the relevant fence is theirs, but it raises an enhanced possibility that it is).

Some people think that a person will have erected a fence, and therefore own it, if the posts and rails are on their side – with the “neat” side facing their neighbour owner’s side. However, it is at least as likely that the owners of the fence will want to benefit from looking at the “neat” side. This also has the logic that an owner would erect the upright posts on his side of the boundary, and nail the boards to the horizontal rails from his side – so in this case, the neat side will face the owner of the fence. So, no clarity there!

Similarly, there is no truth in the myth that the boundary wall or fence on the left (or right) of a property “always” belongs to that property. So what happens if you cannot identify whose responsibility it is from past actions and if the title documents are silent on this (as they will usually be for houses built pre the 1970s, like mine in Kent)?

Who is Responsible for Fixing a Fence or Wall – If the Title Register and  Plan are Silent, then it’s Shared

Well, in that case the legal presumptions is that, in the absence of ‘T’ marks or words confirming the position in the title documents, a wall or fence is presumed to be jointly owned and its maintenance a joint responsibility. In the special case where a fence or hedge is next to a ditch, the legal presumption is that the landowner, before erecting the fence or planting the hedge, would dig the ditch at the boundary, with the hedge or fence put on the mound that has been created by the dirt from the ditch, in which case both the ditch and the hedge would belong to that owner.

In my case, when all else failed, after speaking to my neighbour, I decided to pay this time, but with my verbal parting shot being that “If the lady on the other side of me also thinks it is for me to pay for that fence too, that would change things here for us.” So, on the basis that “good fences make good neighbours”, I sent a cheque for £100 to the neighbour to pay to his man to fix the fence.

I did not admit liability or even say what the money was for, in writing – I just stuck a cheque in the post. No message, just the cheque. This way, I protect myself from future liability but save from falling out with a neighbour over such a small amount.

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