In a stern warning to homeowners that it pays to get along with the neighbours, a pensioner is facing up to crushing legal bills after losing out in a marathon struggle with the couple next door over a four-inch-wide strip of land.
The 85-year-old woman and her neighbours had been at loggerheads over the boundary between their Reading homes for over 20 years. The dispute began in 1990, when the pensioner complained that her neighbours’ extension encroached onto her land, but escalated further as the years passed.
When the pensioner constructed a car port in 1997, her neighbours claimed that it had been partially built on their land and was shedding water onto their extension. The dispute culminated in a county court ruling in favour of the neighbours and an injunction was issued, requiring the pensioner to remove her car port.
Challenging that decision at the Court of Appeal, the pensioner’s legal team argued that the judge was wrong to find that a crucial part of the boundary was defined by a line of concrete edging stones. It was submitted that the judge had erred in placing too much reliance on physical features on the ground in preference to title documents dating back to when the houses were built in 1971.
However, dismissing the appeal, the Court noted that the title documents contained an ambiguity and found that the judge was entitled to conclude on the evidence that the edging posts and a white fence had been erected by the original developers to mark the boundary.
The Court made a modest adjustment to the boundary line as drawn by the judge, finding that it lay just over three inches from the pensioner’s garage, but noted that that error could have been corrected earlier by the judge himself without the need for a full-scale appeal.
In the circumstances, the pensioner was ordered to pay her neighbours’ substantial legal costs. With barristers and solicitors instructed on both sides in the lengthy proceedings, her bill is likely to run well into six figures.