Common Property Disputes (And Their Resolutions)
We're on the fence ... promise!
Ownership and property disputes go hand in hand
Have you taken the plunge and purchased a piece of property?
You’ve found yourself a true home.
You want to make the most of it, of course, and after all the moving-in is done, and all of the pictures are hung and clothes put away, it’s time to settle into a life of comfortable bliss.
Hold up on that for a just one second. It’ll be bliss, for sure - but the odds are, there are going to be a few bumps along the way. With property ownership, unfortunately, comes property disputes. Whether it be from neighbours, estate agents or governmental forces, disagreements, property disputes and problems naturally arise as the years pass.
It’s just a fact of ownership.
So what can you do when these problems bubble up?
Here’s the good news: we’re here to help. In this article, we’re going to outline some of the most common property disputes - and give you a tip or two on how to resolve them.
Happy reading, and happy property ownership.
Dispute Category #1: "This is not my beautiful house!"
Let’s start right at the beginning of property ownership by examining some of the conflicts that can arise right at the start of the process.
ISSUE: The property you bought is dirty, full of knot-weed or damp.
This is a very common issue. You agree to some type of sale, and when you move in the place looks like a dorm room at the end of a semester or previous issues were concealed.
RESOLUTION: Unfortunately, there’s not much to be done here. Unless specifically detailed in the contract, the seller doesn’t need to provide a spotless domicile it was also on the onus for you to find any structural issues prior to purchase.
The best advice? Get in there early and clean it before you start the move in process to prevent any property disputes.
Recommended reading: What Makes an Unmortgageable Property? (And How You Can Fix It)
ISSUE: Some of the vital elements that you expected to come with the property aren’t there.
On day one, when you move in, you were expecting the washing machine to be there in the corner, or the dining room set that was promised from the previous seller is gone.
RESOLUTION: It’s a legal one - go and get the contract that you signed with the seller. In that contract, the seller should have specified which house fixtures - washing machine, oven, microwave, furniture - would come along with the house. If those are missing, it’s the seller’s obligation to provide them to you, the buyer.
ISSUE: Wait, this place is damaged!
You’ve moved in, and there’s some portion of the property is significantly broken, battered or bruised - maybe a portion of the roof, or a door, or a broken window or something similar.
That’s certainly not ideal.
RESOLUTION: Again, check the paperwork. If the damage occurred in the period between when you signed the contracts and when you moved in, you should be covered by insurance. Make your claim, and retrieve the money that’s owed to you.
Recommended reading: The Conveyancing Process
Dispute category #2: That's not neighbourly!
Odds are, your neighbours will be perfectly lovely people that you’ll be excited to share a pint, cup of tea or even a bag of sugar with if the need arises. However … with property ownership there’s always the chance that there’ll be a tiff with one of them over some situation or another that occurs.
That’s just a fact of human nature.
Here are some of the common property disagreements that may come up with your neighbours.
ISSUE: There’s some type of nature - a tree or a bush - on their property, and you don’t like what it’s doing to your property.
Boundary disputes are common one.
Let’s say your neighbour has a massive tree in their backyard, and it’s blocking the view or the sunlight that’s on your land, therefore disrupting the view or the atmosphere of your dream house.
RESOLUTION: First, check with your local council. Make sure that there’s no historical preservation order on that piece of nature that’s blocking your view. If there is, don’t touch it. If there’s not, then you have the right to remove that piece of nature that’s on your land - with some conditions.
Remember that - you can remove the piece of the tree or bush that resides on your property.
Check the contract, and double-check the boundary limits of your property before you arrange for any cutting. Also, be aware that it’s at least neighbourly to engage in a conversation between your neighbours before you do any sort of chopping.
Oh, and one more note - the neighbours have the right to keep all of the branches that are cut down - so don't start making a grand victory bonfire with them just yet.
ISSUE: My neighbour and I share something that’s in need of repair. Who pays?
Let’s say you’re on a piece of property with a neighbour, and you share a backyard / step / fence or some other element that may get damaged. What happens when those need repairs?
RESOLUTION: This is one in which communication is absolutely essential to prevent property disputes. Engage with your neighbour and determine who is responsible for the damage (if any), and then work up a contract with the company or service provider that will work the repairs, outlining exactly what each party will owe for the repairs.
ISSUE: I have to get onto that land to fix something!
What happens if you need to get on to your neighbour’s land to fix a busted pipe or something vital for your own property, and they’re hesitant?
RESOLUTION: The law responds to this one! Let’s look at the language for 1992’s Access to Neighbouring Land Act, detailed so very well by the government themselves. If you have need to the land for any of those basic “preservation works”, then the court can order the access. Solicitors may have to be involved in this effort.
ISSUE: Hey, wait, I think that’s on my property!
Disputes about the exact limits of your property can oftentimes arise when either your or your neighbour wants to erect a wall.
RESOLUTION: Again, check the documents. The government has a fine primer on the subject at this location and you can also get more information on boundary disputes here on the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyor’s website.
View Andrew Roberts' story about his boundary dispute with his neighbour:
Dispute Category #3: "All those agents!"
It’s often-times necessary to get an agent involved in your property, and there’s always a chance you’ll have some type of dispute with them that may bleed over into your daily life.
Here are some of those common scenarios, and what to do about them.
ISSUE: Wait, I was sure that piece of property was worth more.
What happens when you’re ready to sell, or at least downsize a piece of your home, and you’re astonished at the price they give you, one way or the other? That piece of news can do serious damage to your bottom line.
RESOLUTION: Do your research. Check similar prices in your neighbourhood and for your piece of property and plan likewise. Additionally, don’t just go with the first valuation from the agent - engage multiple agencies and choose wisely.
The other option?
Don’t use an agent at all.
Check for other options. You can bypass the estate agent process entirely by using a website like Yes Homebuyers. By using a cash house buyer like this, you don’t have to deal with the pains of the process - no estate agent valuations, no red tape, no relying on the property chain, etc.,
It’s significantly easier and quicker as you can get a valuation in under 24 hours and have your house sold with cash in your pocket in under 7 days.
ISSUE: So, I switched estate agents in the middle of the process. Am I going to have to pay my old agent?
Let’s play this scenario out.
If you’re in the middle of selling a property, you engage one agent, and then decide to switch him or her out for one reason or another after they show a property. Later on, those people the original agent showed the property to decide to buy.
Do you have to pay commission to both the original agent AND the current agent?
RESOLUTION: Well, this is a tricky one, and there’s actually no perfect answer for this.
The best advice?
Read up on the scenario in this article on the HomeOwners Alliance and see how you fit into the scenario. This takes careful consideration and study of the contract signed and the local regulations.
Dispute category #4: "Joint ownership, what's my share?"
Let’s say you’re jumping into ownership on a piece of property with a friend. If so, that opens up a whole new can of property dispute worms.
ISSUE: Wait, what type of ownership should this type of ownership be?
Let’s start off at the beginning - if you’re going to own property with someone, what is the type of ownership that you’re in?
Here they are:
Sole Proprietor - one person is named on the title as the proprietor.
Joint Tenants - If one of you passed away the other person automatically received the property, also known as, "right of ownership". Wills are void in this scenario and this is most common with married couples and civil partnerships.
Tenants in Common - A share of the ownership of the property is divided between the owners and must add up to 100%. If one person passes away or wants to leave they are free to sell or pass on their share percentage of the property to somebody else.
RESOLUTION: Identifying this is a good start to resolving property disputes. Match these up with the right one for your relationship.
Wait, that could get sticky. What do we do if we want to sell?
Preparation is key in this case.
For a joint ownership, make sure that the contract is clear on the terms for all parties in case someone wants to offload the property. Additionally, it is possible to change from the Joint Tenant relationship to a Tenant in Common Relationship.
You can check out the government’s page on this relationship here.