Hedge Cutting Proves Costly

You might think that where the boundaries of property lie should be clear, but boundary disputes are a fruitful source of argument in the courts.

A recent case arose when, between contracts being exchanged on a property and the completion of its purchase, a row of hedging plants and trees that lay between the property and the neighbouring house had been cut back by the neighbours to the level of the earth bank on which they grew. The buyer claimed the plants were on her property, whilst the neighbours disputed this and also claimed the work had been done before she acquired a legal interest in it. The buyer claimed damages of £100,000 and sought an injunction against the neighbours.

The boundary was marked in only vague form in a conveyance in 1928 and that meant in turn that the judge in the County Court had to infer its location from the best evidence available. This involved looking at the auction particulars from 1928, letters written in the 1930s and photographs from the 1940s, and considering the likelihood that a stock-proof fence would have been needed to separate the properties.

The judge found in favour of the neighbours on the boundary issue and dismissed the claim. As regards when the plants were removed, he ruled that the works were done after the buyer had acquired the property and so would have constituted an actionable wrong had the decision gone the other way. He assessed the damages that would have been payable had the buyer succeeded in her claim at £22,500, but held that an injunction was unnecessary.

As is not uncommon, the decision of the lower court, which was reached after a trial lasting six days, was appealed on the question of where the boundary lay. The High Court reviewed the evidence again and, somewhat unusually, overturned the ruling, awarding the buyer the £22,500 calculated at the first hearing. It is fair to say that that sum will be dwarfed by the legal costs and that may or may not make another appeal more likely.