In a cautionary tale for homeowners, next-door neighbours at war over a three-foot strip of land between their properties lavished hundreds of thousands of pounds on legal costs – and got almost nowhere.
The owners of two modest properties (house A and house B) each claimed title to the strip. The owners of house A wanted to achieve access to a narrow passage beside their garage which they claimed had been unlawfully blocked off. However, their neighbours were adamant that the strip lay entirely within their boundary.
The owners of house A achieved a qualified success in winning the right to ‘rather more than half’ the strip after a five-day county court hearing. The decisive evidence had come from a member of the family which had once owned the farmland on which both houses were built. He had said that, when the common boundary was first created in 1969, it was set along one side of an old elm tree.
However, in challenging the decision, the owners of house B presented fresh evidence to the Court of Appeal in the form of old aerial photographs which were said to show that the witness had been mistaken and that there had never been any elm tree either on, or near, the boundary.
The owners of house A countered with their own fresh evidence from local witnesses who said that they remembered the tree. They argued that the photographs were unreliable because, by the time they were taken, the elm had been reduced to a four-foot stump which would not have been visible from the air.
The Court was unable to resolve that conflict of evidence – and remitted the dispute to the county court for re-hearing. The legal costs of the appeal alone came to more than £50,000 and the Court remarked that a six-figure sum had already been spent in fighting over the apparently ‘inconsequential’ strip.