Try to avoid any conflict

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Q My new neighbour has suddenly fenced off an area I thought was within my property’s boundaries. What can I do?

A The first thing you can try to do is have a sensible conversation with him or her about it.

In my 40-plus years of experience, I’ve seen arguments about the tiniest plots of land escalate into time-consuming disputes ending up in pretty costly court cases.

Such conflicts can blow up out of nowhere: a genuine misunderstanding about ownership; a homeowner wanting to maximise the value of their property or resolve a longstanding issue before selling; differing interpretations of Land Registry plans; a neighbour building a new wall or replacing a dilapidated fence; and, in your case, a new neighbour moving in.

Your neighbour may simply be staking their claim to a ‘grey’ area which no-one is really sure who owns, such as a small patch of grass between your front drives, or they may be deliberately trying to extend their boundaries.

Either way, if they refuse to budge, there are paths you can follow and ways of minimising the potential costs.

In the worst case scenario you will appoint a solicitor who will then appoint a specialist surveyor to draft a carefully prepared expert report. Your neighbour will do the same before you all end up in court presenting your cases to a judge.

A less time-consuming and less costly alternative is for one expert surveyor to be appointed – and agreed on by both parties – who will present a factual and impartial report for the judge to make a decision upon.

Sometimes this is more like detective work than land surveying, and a great deal of common sense and deductive reasoning is required as well as complex skills and experience.

However the dispute plays out, it’s always worth getting expert advice at an early stage – and remembering that when it is all over, you still have to live next to each other.