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Falling out with the neighbours

- can prove costly!

A retired West Country couple face losing their home of 20 years after fighting a bitter boundary row with a neighbour over a privet hedge and a tiny strip of land. Ronnie Long, 72, and his wife Wendy, 60, say they will be forced to sell their four-bedroom £650,000 detached house to pay legal costs – despite representing themselves during three court hearings. They became embroiled in a row with their neighbour after an 8ft (2.5m) privet hedge dividing their gardens was cut down. Work began to erect a fence, but the Longs claimed the new posts were 9 to 12inches inside their land.

A judge ruled that because the Longs had disputed the siting of the fence posts they must pay £14,000 for legal work carried out by the neighbour’s solicitor, which includes charges of more than £200 per letter sent to them. Mr Long, a former flooring contractor, said: ‘The lawyer’s bill has broken us. We were absolutely gobsmacked when we received it. ‘Ironically, we couldn’t afford a solicitor. We are both retired and only have pensions. All our money is tied up in the house. We now face losing our home simply because we disputed where the fence posts were sited. We are devastated.’

The Longs’ nightmare began in May 2015 when they returned to their home after shopping to find the privet hedge running 100ft between the gardens had been chopped down with a chainsaw. He says: ‘Before then we’d never had any dispute with Mrs Lambeth. But she wanted to replace the hedge with a fence to stop her Jack Russell escaping. ‘We were so upset. I’d tended my side of that privet hedge for 20 years. It was beautiful, and I was so proud of it. But we objected when workmen began erecting fence posts 9 to 12inches away from where the middle of the hedge used to be, and she took us to court.’

The Longs say that as they could not afford to pay, they struggled to find legal advice and eventually realised they would have to respond and fight themselves. Mr Long said: ‘At the first hearing the judge said he wanted an independent surveyor’s report. At the second court hearing the surveyor’s report confirmed the boundary was in the middle of the hedge. By then we were happy to agree because the case was causing us so much stress.’

Mrs Lambeth’s lawyer said: ‘Mrs Lambeth always believed the boundary was along the line of an old chain-link post fence but for almost three years Mr Long disputed that. Because he disputed it, she did the right thing in taking it to court.’ Mrs Lambeth said: ‘Mr Long says he is being forced to sell his house, but he had his house on the market before this boundary issue. ‘He wanted more land, but I put my foot down and wouldn’t have it. He’s kept this going for three years. But I’m relieved it’s all over’.

We’ve found neighbour disputes to be a common cause for folk opting to move home, sometimes over the most trivial issues. It seems such a shame to go to all the expense involved. The best advice that can be given in any situation regarding potential disputes, especially over boundaries, is before moving fences or chopping down hedges, knock on the neighbour’s door and arrange to sit down and chat it through – it’s almost sure to work.

By Chris Willey

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