Useful information about property disputes

You should note that the law in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands may differ from the below. If you believe that your case may fall within one of these jurisdictions please contact the Legal Advice Line for advice.

Index of contents

Time limits

  • The time limits depend on the type of claim you are bringing.
  • Many claims, such as trespass and property damage must be brought within 6 years.
  • Some claims require that the claimant has ‘enjoyed a right’ for a certain period of time. For example, in adverse possession the claimant must have enjoyed uninterrupted access over the land for a period of at least 10 or 12 years dependant on whether the land is registered or unregistered.

Types of claim

  • Right to light – in law there is no automatic right to light although in rare cases this right could be conferred by a property’s title deeds or it can be acquired through long use (i.e. if the property has enjoyed the right for 20 years or more). When reaching a decision the court will consider to what extent the light is reduced (using specific calculations usually produced by a surveyor) and which rooms are affected. For example it will, of course, be considered more severe if the light to a kitchen is reduced rather, than say, a bedroom.
  • High hedges – Although there is no automatic right to light (as outlined above) if your neighbour’s hedge is particularly tall (over 2 metres) it may fall within the scope of the Antisocial Behaviour Act 2003. What this means is that so long as the hedge meets certain conditions, set out in the Act, and you can prove that you have tried to resolve the matter with your neighbour, the local authority may be able to assist in reducing the height of the hedge.
  • Trespass – contrary to popular myth trespass is a civil, rather than criminal, matter. This simply means that if someone trespasses on your land you would bring a claim through the county court, usually for an injunction to prevent the trespass occurring again or you could seek financial recompense for any losses you have suffered.
  • Encroachment – this occurs where things, such as fences, encroach onto your land. If you can prove encroachment you may be granted an injunction and / or damages for financial loss. You would have to prove encroachment by referring to your title deeds, to clarify where your physical and legal boundaries are and what boundaries have been encroached.
  • Nuisance – nuisance has a specific legal meaning and is broadly defined as anything causing a substantial and unreasonable interference with a person's land or his use or enjoyment of that land. Nuisance may encompass noise, smells and where damage to property occurs. It may be possible to claim financial recompense for any losses you have incurred e.g. the cost of repairs to your property caused by tree roots or to secure an injunction to prevent the nuisance from continuing. With regards to noises and smells, you can report this to the Local Authority’s Environmental Department. They have a duty to investigate if the noise or smell complained about is a statutory nuisance i.e. that it is harmful to your health. They can potentially issue a Noise Abatement Order on your neighbour.
  • Adverse possession – This might occur where a person, other than the owner of the land, occupies land without the permission of the land owner for a specified period of time (either 10 or 12 years). The law in this area can be complex however so you should seek advice from the legal advice line if you believe this might apply to you.

Proving your claim

  • The things you will need to prove will, of course, depend on the type of claim you are bringing. For example,

    • you may need to show that you have ‘enjoyed’ a right for a certain length of time e.g. your property has had unfettered access to natural light for 20 years or more,
    • you may need to provide evidence that an act has taken place e.g. persistent trespass, nuisance etc. and that this has interfered with the enjoyment of your property.
    • In the case of adverse possession you would need to show that you have had uninterrupted access to the land, which you did not have permission to occupy, for the requisite period of time and that you had the intention of excluding all others from the land.
  • Property disputes can be complex and take a long time to resolve. As a result of this they can also be costly.
  • They can also cause rifts between neighbours and any unresolved disputes must be declared to any prospective purchaser upon selling your house. Therefore, any unresolved disputes could impact your property value.
  • Sometimes the potential cost of an action far outweighs any benefit either party will gain.
  • Property law, particularly relating to boundary disputes, can be a bit of a grey area and very much depends on the circumstances.


  • For any dispute it is advisable that you keep a diary of events and conversations you have.
  • The courts may refer to plans, photographs, the lay out of the remainder of the street, witness evidence etc.
  • It is imperative that you keep evidence of any correspondence between yourself and your neighbour as you must show you have attempted to resolve the matter with your neighbour prior to taking court action.
  • In the case of adverse possession you are likely to need the following:

    • The circumstances in which the adverse possession started, including dates.
    • The purpose for which the land has been and is being used and the activities carried out there.
    • The extent to which the land is enclosed by fences, who erected and maintains the fences and if there are locks, who has copies of the keys.
    • Details of any rents you might receive for allowing another person to occupy the land.
    • Any correspondence or communications whereby other people have treated you as the owner of the land, such as, for example, requesting that you carry out repairs.
    • Confirmation that you do not occupy the land with the consent of the owner.
    • An explanation of any gaps in possession.


  • You must ensure that you put your neighbour on notice, where relevant, of your complaint. For example, if your neighbour’s trees are causing damage to your property it is important to write to them ASAP as they will usually only be liable for damage caused since the date they were aware or should have been aware of the problem. In your letter you should include details of the problem, what you would like them to do about it and a deadline for them to respond to you. In this letter, it would be beneficial to note that if you do not receive a response to your letter within the time period specified (usually 14 days), that you will be seeking legal advice on the matter.
  • Mediation in disputes with neighbours is a great alternative to court action and can save you a lot of time and money. It can also help to preserve neighbourly relations.
  • A boundary dispute may be assessed on the value of the land in dispute.
  • In appropriate disputes e.g. property damage or boundary disputes, it may be prudent to agree to the appointment of a joint surveyor with an agreement to be bound by his / her findings.
  • It may be possible to make a claim for some types of property dispute, such as damage, on household insurance. In some circumstances your household insurer may seek to recover their losses from the responsible third party.
  • In some cases you may be entitled to exercise your right to ‘self help’ for example by lopping back branches to the boundary line if your neighbour’s trees are encroaching on your land. Please contact the legal advice line prior to taking any such action though to ascertain the extent, if any, of your rights. Bear in mind also that the trees in question could be subject to a Tree Preservation Order which would prohibit the lopping of branches / removal of the tree and could result in criminal penalties if breached.


  • Damages – i.e. a financial award to compensate you for your loss.
  • Injunction – either requiring or prohibiting a certain act.

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