Property dispute resolution expert, Mike Hansom, answers a number of common legal questions relating to fences. Mike is available on 01225 462871. Alternatively, you can email him, or complete the Contact Form at the foot of this page.
Boundary Fence Rules UK contents:
- Who owns the fence UK?
- How close can I build to my neighbour’s fence UK?
- Neighbours fence encroaching on my property
- Neighbours fence falling into my garden
- How tall can a fence be UK?
- Can I paint my neighbour’s fence?
There is little more guaranteed to cause discontent between neighbours than a boundary dispute or a disagreement concerning something on, near, or encroaching over or under a boundary. In the past, I have produced various short articles covering a range of boundary-related topics. These include:
- Boundary disputes: a practical guide
- Do I need planning permission for a fence?
- What is adverse possession?
- Liability for tree roots and branches
- Compensation for tree root damage
- Maximum height of trees near houses
- Rights of light explained
- Access to a neighbour’s property for maintenance: what are my rights?
Boundary Fence Rules UK
Recently, I’ve received a number of inquiries relating specifically to fence laws UK, and thought it would be useful to share some of those.
Who owns the fence UK?
The first thing to remember is that a boundary is simply a line that has no width, which marks the extent of a property. A boundary feature, on the other hand, is anything used to mark that extent. Boundary features can be a fence, hedge, wall, line of trees, ditch, or sometimes just the edge of a driveway. The feature may be on either side of the boundary or straddling it.
Despite a widespread belief to the contrary, there is no legal presumption that a person owns or must maintain a fence or other boundary feature on either the left or the right of the property. However, if a T-mark on your deed plan is inward-facing to your property, it usually means you are responsible for the repair of that boundary feature. But, importantly, the Court of Appeal has held that a T-mark does not also mean (or indicate) that you own that boundary feature. A plan is therefore unlikely to be of much assistance on the question of ownership. An H-Mark indicates joint responsibility.
Sometimes the original deeds will help clarify the issue of who owns the boundary feature, and on larger developments, the builder often provides some indication. Alternatively, understanding the general pattern of ownership along your road may provide a solution. Sometimes, however, unsatisfactory though it may be, there will be no clear answer.
How close can I build to my neighbour’s fence UK?
As you have no right to build on your neighbour’s land, the two questions to consider are where is the boundary, and how close to it can I build? Remember, a fence or other boundary feature does not necessarily indicate the legal boundary with any degree of accuracy.
When you apply to the local authority for planning permission, it’s your responsibility to show the correct boundary on your plans. But, of course, the same also applies to any plans submitted by your neighbour. In reality, the planning officer will not be overly concerned with boundary ownership issues. So, while you are right to alert them if you believe the boundary is shown incorrectly on a neighbour’s plans, they will regard any dispute as a private matter. Certainly, do not expect them to arbitrate.
Building within 1m of boundary
There is a common misconception that you cannot build within one metre of a boundary. While this is not correct, if your proposed project involves building on or near the boundary line, the Party Wall Act 1996 sets out detailed provisions on:
- what is allowed;
- how and when notice of the intended works must be served; and
- what happens in the event of a dispute.
The Act’s main purpose is to prevent building work that might compromise the structural integrity of any shared wall (a party wall) or adjoining property. There are three scenarios:
- A Party Structure Notice is served where the proposed alterations directly affect the structure of the party wall. Examples would include cutting holes to insert beams and padstones, cutting in flashings and removing chimney breasts.
- A Notice of Adjacent Excavation is served where you propose either: i) excavating within 3 metres of your neighbour’s building and to a depth lower than the bottom of their foundations, or ii) excavating within 6 metres of your neighbour’s building if your works will cut a line drawn downwards at 45° from the bottom of your neighbour’s foundations.
- A Line of Junction Notice is served where you propose constructing a new wall adjacent to or astride a boundary.
Neighbours fence encroaching on my property
This issue is covered in my earlier article on adverse possession, together with linked articles on:
Neighbours fence falling into my garden
It’s not uncommon to find a neighbour’s fence is in poor condition, possibly even leaning into your garden. The first thing you should do is raise this politely with your neighbour, particularly if the fence is trespassing on your property. But what if they refuse to take action?
With their consent, you can attempt to shore it up or repair it yourself. But beware of doing this without their permission as you may find it’s you that’s committing trespass.
If the fence has collapsed into your garden, you are permitted to place the damaged pieces back into your neighbour’s garden, but in so doing, beware of further damaging it or anything else on your neighbour’s side, otherwise you could be guilty of causing criminal damage. It’s wise to always anticipate a dispute. With this in mind, take photos of the fence before touching it to show the condition it was in and again afterwards to show where you have moved it.
In any situation where a fence is to be replaced, or a new fence is to be erected where there was not one before, discuss the details with your neighbour. Agree and mark out its position, including the position of any fence posts. While it may not always be practical or seem necessary, the agreement should be in writing with a detailed scale plan attached.
How tall can a fence be UK?
In terms of the legal fence height between neighbours, there are three scenarios:
- If the fence abuts a highway used by vehicles (or the footpath of such a highway if there is one), it cannot exceed one metre in height from ground level.
- In all other situations, a fence cannot exceed two metres in height from ground level.
- If an existing fence already exceeds that height, the height must not be increased.
Trellis on top of fence
The maximum height of garden fence with trellis on top will depend on your local authority and you should check with them. In most cases, it must still not exceed two metres, although some local authorities will accept it a little higher if they class it as a temporary structure. In those cases, however, the temporary structure will only be allowed to stand for a stated maximum period each year.
Can I paint my neighbour’s fence?
You must not paint, repair or otherwise interfere with your neighbour’s fence without their permission. To do so would be causing criminal damage.