Who owns a hedge? (And the fence my neighbours burnt down)

One of today’s internet searches that led someone here was “who owns a hedge that was planted before tenants rented the property?”

It’s an interesting question as the law over boundaries is fairly complex and there are various bits of grey area in any attempt to answer this question.

Clearly if the tenants didn’t plant the hedge they have no claim on it, and probably wouldn’t in any case, since the garden is part of the property and planting something in it would probably just count as part of “maintenance.” (Though of course if they planted something in a pot it would remain their property, and they might be able to lay claim to individual plants that had been planted in the garden, depending on the tenancy agreement).

Beyond that, the other important question is who has responsibility for the boundary. A fence or hedge along a boundary falls under the area of boundary law, which can be quite fiddly. For the most part the lease will indicate that one party or the other is responsible for the boundary. This means they are responsible for its maintenance and that the other party doesn’t have the right to maintain it as they choose. This is obviously the root of many disputes over hedges, where for instance, a neighbour allows the hedge they are responsible for to become overgrown. (The best plan in all cases is to have a good relationship with your neighbour and make sure you discuess boundary maintenance if there are any potential problems – hedge disputes are much more likely to arise when neighbours are on bad terms in the first place).

It’s important to note that this applies no matter who planted the hedge or built the fence in the first place. For legal safety, you can build a fence or plant a hedge a few inches or feet to your side of the official boundary although this has certain risks also – it may for instance establish a new de facto boundary, effectively ceding  part of your land to the neighbour. The hedge or fence will also be treated as a boundary fence in any case of dispute.

I currently have an irritating instance of the kind of Catch 22 situation that can create – our neighbours are council tenants and they accidentally burnt down a section of the fence during a barbecue. The boundary is the responsibility of their landlords, the council. But there was no fence there when we moved in, and the council weren’t willing to build one, so we built one at our own expense, just inside the boundary. So, confusingly, it’s our property but their responsibility.

It was annoying that the fence has been damaged, but never mind, we thought, we have insurance. So first we try the contents insurance – they won’t pay for it because they “don’t cover fences.” It doesn’t matter that the fence belongs to us and is not technically a boundary fence.

Our buildings insurance? Nope, because the boundary isn’t our responsibility. But never fear, the council have buildings insurance, so they can claim. Nope – because the council’s policy is “we don’t mend fences,” so they wo’t make a claim. They suggested we claim on their public liability insurance, which I suspect they knew in advance was a waste of time. The answer? “No, because you can’t prove the council was negligent.” Well, of course they weren’t, since they weren’t the ones who burnt it down.

Thus far it is a bit like going round a maze with no solution. A bit of a boring story, I know, but a good indication of the pitfalls that surround boundary hedges and fences.

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Filed under Everyday Hedges, Hedge Politics

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