Shared driveway problems are very common. Property Disputes specialist Mike Hansom considers the legal position and possible remedies.
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Developers have always sought to maximise the housing they can squeeze onto their sites. As a result, if you have off-road parking, there’s a good chance you have a shared driveway. In most cases, with consideration and good communication, neighbourly goodwill prevails. However, shared driveway problems do occur.
The most common examples of a shared driveway or accessway are where:
- One property has no driveway or accessway from the highway. Instead, they have a right of way (an easement) over the neighbouring property. The right of way allows them to access their property by vehicle or on foot.
- Two properties each have narrow adjacent driveways. Often, these driveways are not wide enough to park two cars side by side. As a result, the property owners must agree on their parking arrangements. Sometimes, these adjacent driveways act simply as accessways to a garage or a larger parking area to the rear of each property.
- New build developments often have an open plan frontage shared by several properties. Although not its intended purpose, residents often use this space for parking.
See also: Can a right of way be removed?
Shared driveway problems
By far and away the most common shared driveway problems are instances of one neighbour interfering with another’s right of way over the access. Often, this involves inconsiderate behaviour, eg poor parking, but occasionally, the action is deliberate.
Law on shared access
You first need to establish exactly what legal rights you have over your neighbour’s land. Broadly, there are three types of rights:
- You will find any express rights in your title deeds. Created or granted by previous owners, those rights attach to the land and bind subsequent owners.
- Prescriptive rights result from continuously exercising a right of way over someone’s land for at least twenty years. You must exercise this right without the other landowner’s permission or consent. Evidence of this continuous usage may enable you to apply to have the right of way registered against the titles to both properties.
- Permissions or consents are informal arrangements agreed between property owners. They are terminable at any time by the granting property owner. If you benefit from the permission or consent, you cannot pass the benefit on to a new property owner.
The legal test
If your neighbour is interfering with your right of way, to have a legal right of action:
- You must establish you have a right of way (express or prescriptive) over your neighbour’s land – see above.
- Your neighbour must have substantially interfered with that right of way.
- As a result of your neighbour’s interference, your right of way cannot be “substantially and practically exercised as conveniently” as before the interference.
This is a complex legal test. But if it’s satisfied, the court can grant you an injunction against your neighbour, requiring them to cease interfering with your right of way. You can also ask the court to award you damages if you have suffered financial loss.
How to deal with a shared driveway problem
The law requires fair use whether the shared driveway is owned by two properties or just one. But, the law also expects users of shared driveways to act considerately. So, that includes not continuously blocking the driveway to the detriment of others. And this does not just apply to parked cars. Skips and building materials on driveways are common complaints. Some landowners even erect barriers or fences on shared driveways.
Going to court really should be a last resort. Full-blown neighbour disputes are seriously bad news. Not only can they prove expensive, but you must disclose the dispute when you come to sell the property. And of course, that’s a huge deterrent to potential purchasers. In addition, there’s also the ongoing issue of living next door to somebody who likely considers you their enemy!
If there’s a problem, try talking to your neighbour. Explore whether a solution or compromise is possible. As unlikely as it may seem, your neighbour may be unaware they are causing an inconvenience or even that you have a right of way. You can always show them the title deeds. Unfortunately, not everyone reads them, and it’s sometimes easy to make the wrong assumption.
If this fails to resolve the problem, contact us for legal advice.