What is a Party Boundary – and Who is Responsible for It?
A party boundary marks that twilight zone between your property and that of your neighbour. And you need to agree on what to do with it.
Good fences make good neighbours. So said Robert Frost in his 1914 poem Mending Wall. But while it works in theory from a poetical perspective, the practical reality is often very different.
The first thing to understand is that where there is a party boundary in place, then a party wall agreement is going to be needed before you, or your neighbour, can do anything. In most cases, however, party walls only exist between terraced or semidetached properties themselves, and do not extend into the garden.
There is no legal requirement for land to be fenced, and so most commonly, the fence will be to one side of the boundary. In other words, it is either on your property, with the outer edge abutting the boundary, or it’s on your neighbour’s land, and the face of it you can see constitutes the boundary.
That sounds a little like semantics, and so it might come as little surprise to know that in-depth questions over whose fence it is, and what you can or cannot do with it, only usually arise when there is already some underlying hostility. When neighbours get along, if a fence needs replacing, they discuss it, and either someone takes responsibility for it and gets on with it, or they share the costs. If only life could always be that way, life would be so much easier.
So whose fence is it?
There are plenty of old wives tales about fences. Some say that you are always responsible for the boundary to your left. Others that it is to the right. That doesn’t answer the question of who is responsible for the fence at the back of the garden. Needless to say, the “left / right” debate is an unanswerable one and there are no hard and fast rules.
A better rule of thumb is that the posts (or in the case of a wall, the pillars) that support the fence are usually on the side of the party that owns it. In other words, if you are looking at the “smooth side” it is probably your neighbour’s fence.
Sometimes, the Land Registry will hold information about who is responsible for which boundary. However, this is not always the case, and even they warn that the information is not always reliable.
The pragmatic approach
Whether you and your neighbours are the best of friends or not on speaking terms, there are two pragmatic points to remember when it comes to boundaries. The first is that if a party boundary is involved and you want to change it, repair it or build against it, a party wall agreement is necessary, so you will have to agree.
The second is that each neighbour is entitled to do as he wishes on his own property. So if the fence belongs to next door and is falling down, you have two choices. Either put up with it, or build a smart new one of your own that is entirely on your own land.
Robert Frost opined that good fences make good neighbours, but Thomas Jefferson put it even better. He said: “Love thy neighbour by all means, but don’t pull down your hedge.”