Trespass claim affecting a residential property

19 July 2023

Mr and Mrs B, who live in the West Midlands instructed Nyree Applegarth in relation to a trespass claim affecting their property.

The clients wanted to undertake an extension to the side of their property and when they removed a dilapidated old garage they discovered that the neighbour had, without the property owners’ knowledge installed a gas pipe over the boundary and into their property which ran for approximately two and a half meters.

This meant that the client could not carry on with their extension and although it seemed obvious that the pipe was trespassing over the boundary line, in order to make sure and before contacting the neighbour the clients instructed a boundary surveyor to give their view on where the legal boundary of the property lay. 

The expert boundary surveyor concluded that the pipe was trespassing and we were therefore instructed to write to the neighbours and point out that the pipe was trespassing and make a request for it to be removed.

Upon receipt of the letter of claim, the neighbours insisted that no trespass was taking place and refused to cooperate to remove the trespassing gas pipe. It was therefore necessary for us to issue an injunction application on behalf of the clients to require the neighbours to remove the gas pipe. 

The owner of the neighbouring property sought to defend the claim by arguing that there was no trespass because the legal boundary line was in a different position to the one contended for by the clients’ expert surveyor, and in the alternative that they had acquired legal title to the disputed strip of land on the basis that they had exclusively used and occupied the disputed strip of land for a period in excess of 20 years (an adverse possession defence).  All of these claims were disputed by our clients. 

The court proceedings caused the claimants significant practical issues, because they had hoped that their extension would be completely finished by Christmas, but the reality was, and owing to the defence by the neighbours, that the entire project had to be put on hold.  Work had to be undertaken to weatherproof the vulnerable side of the clients’ property which had been exposed by the removal of the garage in order to ensure that the property remained dry and warm over the winter period. 

In order to try and obtain a final hearing date as soon as possible, we made an application to the Court for an expedited hearing which was granted, but still meant that the clients’ building works had to be put on hold.

A further interesting facet of this case was the fact that the neighbour sought to argue that the previous owner of the clients’ property had known that he had installed the gas pipe and that he had spoken to him at the time that it was being installed.  Factually this was very questionable, as the neighbour had been elderly at the time the pipe had been installed and given that the old wooden garage did not have a side window looking out onto the neighbouring property it was curious as how the property owner could ever have seen the pipe being installed.  This was a topic that was the subject of cross-examination of the neighbour at trial.

On behalf of the clients, we had made a very early settlement offer to pay for the removal of the gas pipe which was rejected by the neighbours.  As the case progressed towards trial further settlement proposals had also been put forward but also been ignored or rejected by the neighbours.

At trial the judge accepted the expert evidence of behalf of the clients and made an order that the pipe was trespassing and had to be immediately removed by the neighbours.  Given the lack of cooperation by the neighbour and the rejection of the settlement offers that we had made throughout, we also obtained an order for indemnity costs to be paid by the neighbours.  It is usual to obtain only a ‘standard’ order for costs, and the fact that we therefore obtained an indemnity order for costs was demonstrative of the poor conduct on the part of the neighbour throughout.

The neighbour ended up having to pay to the claimants circa £75,000 in legal costs.

Aside from the legal proceedings, the clients required and were provided with significant support throughout the case.  Boundary disputes inevitably take a huge emotional and financial toll on parties and in this instance, as is common in many cases, one of the claimants did have to do stop working for a period owing to stress.  Throughout, we sought to engage the neighbour in settlement discussions to try and bring an early end to the litigation but those attempts were dismissed or ignored by the neighbour.

The final outcome was as favourable as it could possibly be for the clients, but even after the litigation had finished they were left in the unenviable position of living next door to a family with whom they had been involved in litigation for over a year.

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