Rules governing neighbours' rights of way over your property

Last updated: May 2024 | 3 min read

An important part of your property buying journey is being aware of the rules which govern your neighbours' rights of way over your property. Read on to learn what types of rights exist in the UK property market and why it's important to know them before your property transaction. 

A home purchase isn't a simple process; it involves numerous things which must be kept in mind such as your neighbours' rights of way. Read on to learn more about this important aspect of your property ownership.

When determining issues relating to boundaries and shared spaces, the Homebuyers survey will be your best ally. Read about the costs of different types of surveys, and how they will provide long-term benefits!

What are neighbours 'rights of way' rules in UK property law?

"Rights of way" in UK property law refers to the legal rights to pass through property owned by another person.

These rights often pertain to a specific path or area on the land. Understanding this concept requires clarity on the types of rights involved and the conditions under which they apply.

These rights are established through conveyancing deeds, implied by long-standing use, or outlined in the title register. Here's in-depth information about the process of conveyancing- the legal transfer of property title.

What are neighbours' rights of way rules?

Several principles underpin neighbours' rights of way rules:

  • Firstly, there should be an understanding of the difference between public and private rights of way.

  • Secondly, the extent and limitations of the rights need to be specified. These are often governed by past usage or specific terms in a legal document.

  • Lastly, the maintenance responsibilities associated with these rights play a significant role in managing neighbour relationships and preventing disputes.

Types of rights of way

Public vs private rights of way

Public rights of way in the UK offer passage through various landscapes, from countryside paths to urban walkways. Private rights of way typically allow specific individuals access across a neighbour's land.

Often these rights come into play when a property can only be accessed via another person's land. They're essential in preventing neighbours from blocking these passages.

Express, implied, and prescriptive rights of way

Rights of way are acquired in three primary ways: express grant, implication, or prescription.

An express grant occurs when rights are established in a deed or conveyancing document.

Implied rights are not written but assumed to exist, often due to necessity or long-standing use.

Prescriptive rights of way arise after one party has used a path over another's land for a continuous period, usually 20 years, without permission, secrecy, or objection. This type reflects long-standing usage patterns.

What is an easement and how does it affect rights of way?

Easements are legal rights allowing one person to use another's land for a specific purpose. They often impact rights of way, particularly in shared spaces like driveways or paths.

In the UK, easements are typically attached to the land itself, not the individual owner. This means they usually continue even when the property changes hands.

Being fully aware of easements helps in resolving or avoiding disputes regarding access to one's own land or retained land.

When purchasing a property which has rights of way attached to it, think about whether you need a conveyancer or if a solicitor would be better suited to your needs.

Forms of easements

Express easements

Express easements are deliberately created between parties, usually outlined in a conveyancing deed. They're clear, documented permissions for use, like access to a public road through a neighbour's property.

The creation of an express easement involves both parties and might arise when a piece of land is sold and the seller retains some right over the sold land, such as a path to a public highway.

Implied easements

Implied easements aren't written explicitly but are inferred from actions or necessities.

A common type is the easement of necessity, arising when a property can only be accessed via another land, indicating the need for a right of way.

Implied easements are determined by the court based on the land's usage and history.

Prescriptive easements

A prescriptive easement occurs when someone uses another's land in a certain way for a long period, typically at least 20 years. This use must be continuous, open, and without the legal owner's permission.

If, for instance, you've used a path through your neighbour's garden to reach your own property for over two decades openly, a prescriptive easement may exist.

Establishing this in court can ensure legal rights are recognised.

Easements for maintenance

Sometimes, easements grant rights not just for access, but also for maintaining property boundaries or features.

This type might allow a landowner to gain access to a neighbour's land to repair a boundary feature such as a fence or wall.

These are important for keeping properties in good repair, avoiding neighbour trespassing issues, and ensuring compliance with local building regulations.

Rights to light

Other easements might include rights to light, where a property must receive a certain amount of natural light, not obstructed by neighbouring buildings or gardens.

Establishing a right of way

Role of land registry in rights of way

Rights of way across land in the UK are often officially recorded with the Land Registry. When dealing with a right of way, the first step usually involves checking the title deeds of the property. These can provide critical details.

It may confirm the existence of a right of way and give insights into any conditions or limitations associated with it.

Owners often discover whether their property benefits from or is subject to a right of way by scrutinising the title register.

Dealing with disputes over rights of way

Common causes of neighbours' right of way disputes

Neighbours' right of way disputes often originate from unclear boundaries or misunderstandings.

Issues can arise when new owners are unaware of existing rights, leading to blockages or when physical changes like building extensions encroach on access paths.

Disputes also escalate when a property's only access is through another's land.

How to resolve disputes

  • Begin with negotiation to resolve right of way disputes. Clear, open discussions can solve many misunderstandings.

  • If discussions fail, formal written communication should be your next step, focusing on facts and avoiding aggressive language.

  • Consider mediation for impartial conflict resolution.

  • Legal intervention is the final step, for mostly complex easements around ownership, and historical usage. In courts, outcomes can vary, from upholding rights of way to modifying or revoking them. Legal action should be your last option due to its expense and time commitment.

Protecting your rights of way

In managing neighbours' rights of way, a proactive approach avoids disputes and legal issues. This section focuses on effectively maintaining and defending these rights.

Proactive measures to ensure rights are respected

Establish clear boundaries: begin by clearly defining the rights of way's boundaries. Visible markers like fences or signs can help.

Communicate effectively: maintain open communication with your neighbour. Discussing rights of way usage can prevent misunderstandings and conflicts.

Document and record usage: recording how and when the right of way is used can be crucial if disputes arise.

Maintain the right of way: regular upkeep asserts your use and can prevent adverse possession claims by neighbours.

When and how to seek legal advice

Your solicitor might recommend mediation before considering court, depending on your case's complexity and potential for amicable resolution. If proactive steps fail, legal advice might be necessary to handle neighbour disputes regarding rights of way.

  • Identify the need for legal assistance via indicators which may include persistent obstruction of access by a neighbour or boundary disputes.

  • Opt for legal professionals experienced in property and neighbour disputes. They can guide you through resolving rights of way issues.

  • If litigation is unavoidable, compile all necessary documents like property deeds, usage logs, and any prior communication with the neighbour. These help to build a strong legal case.

Focusing on these steps can ensure the protection and respect of your rights of way, keeping relations with neighbours harmonious and legally sound.

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