Access or right of way disputes are a common occurrence between neighbours, but the rules and laws surrounding rights of way can be complicated to understand. Take a look at our guide to learn more about your rights and how best to settle any neighbour disputes over right of way.
What is a right of way on property?
A right of way can be defined as:
“The legal right, established by usage or grant, to pass along a specific route through grounds or property belonging to another.”
This may involve the use of a shared pathway to get to your property, the need to travel over a neighbour’s land to reach a piece of your land, or a requirement to access a neighbour’s land in order to carry out building works or utilities repairs.
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Private right of way rules
Easements, or rights to cross or use someone’s land, can be created in a number of ways. The three main types of easement are:
- Necessity – if a piece of land or building is only accessible from a public road over a private road, path or track, then it could have a right of way of necessity over that road, path or track provided it meets some specific criteria.
- Prescription – if a right of way is used openly and repeatedly without permission, force or secrecy, for a period of over 20 years, a prescriptive easement may be in place.
Generally, a right of way may be used providing you do not stop, linger, or obstruct the right of way. If you find a right of way over neighbour’s land obstructed, you could possibly use a reasonable alternative path, provided you do not trespass onto a third party’s land.
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Private right of way disputes
A range of disputes can occur over rights of way. These can include:
- Right of way obstructions
- Disputes of the existence or extent of the right of way
- The need to access a right of way for repairs or building work
- Upkeep and maintenance of rights of way
This list is by no means exhaustive and every dispute should be treated individually, in order to ensure a positive outcome. For more information on how right of way disputes may occur, read about easements here.
The most common type of disputes relate to obstructions to the right of way or disputes as to whether a right exists at all. Most have a combination of the two. In other words, you may have been using a right of way for some time or only use it every now and again but your neighbour doesn’t believe you have the right to enter their land so takes steps to stop you by obstructing the access such as locking a gate or placing some other physical obstruction on the right of way. Alternatively, a neighbour may have started trespassing on your land or using more of your land than they may be entitled to do claiming to do so under a right of way and you are seeking to stop them doing so.
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How can you settle disputes?
If you find your private right of way blocked or disputed, there are a number of steps that you can take.
You can try approaching your neighbour directly to resolve the matter but we think it is important that before doing so you know what your legal rights are. This can often help when that discussion takes place. Therefore, solicitors should be your first port of call. It is important to get legal advice before taking action yourself, as easement disputes are likely to be easier to resolve if you remain on friendly terms with the other party. Your solicitor will be able to help you take steps to resolve your dispute, such as entering negotiations and gathering appropriate documentation.
If you are unable to resolve your dispute, you may need to go to Court. This may involve seeking a declaration of your right of way and an order preventing your neighbour obstructing you from using it or it could be you seeking an order to stop a neighbour trespassing on your land where they do not have a right to do so. An order requiring one or both parties to act, or stop acting, in a certain way is often referred to as an injunction.
The law around rights of way can be complicated, so if you are locked in a dispute with a neighbour, it is best to obtain professional advice. Contact the Abacus team at our Manchester or Warrington offices for advice on your situation.