Neighbours engaged in boundary disputes would generally be wise to submit their differences to an independent expert for resolution, rather than fighting it out in court. However, as one High Court case underlined, it is important to remember that the expert’s decision is final and, unless appealed, binding, warts and all.
The case concerned a narrow strip of land between two suburban homes. A couple that owned one of them argued that the boundary line was marked by a timber post that had stood at the front of the properties. They argued that their neighbour had, after removing the post and a hedge, erected a fence on their side of the line.
When agreement could not be reached, the dispute was submitted to an independent surveyor, who upheld the boundary line contended for by the couple. The neighbour subsequently came across fresh evidence in the form of a previously undiscovered plan. However, with minor adjustments, the expert stuck to his earlier views.
The neighbour’s challenge to that outcome was rejected by a judge on the basis that the terms of the expert’s appointment made clear the intention of all parties that his decision would be final and binding, without recourse to the courts. In dismissing the neighbour’s appeal against that ruling, the Court noted that he was, in reality, seeking to challenge the merits of the expert’s decision. This was decisive and could not be challenged merely on the basis that it was mistaken.
Boundary disputes can not only sour relations between neighbours but they also often lead to positions becoming entrenched, and the final result of that is often that the ownership of the land in question is decided at very heavy cost to the loser.