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Disputes between neighbours can blight the lives of all concerned and it is always wise to seek legal advice before matters get out of hand. In one case, an elderly couple face losing their home under the weight of legal bills following a long-running row with their neighbour over her access to a utility meter.
The meter was attached to an exterior wall and the neighbour could only access it by going onto the pensioners’ land. They denied her access by erecting a gate that they kept locked. After she launched proceedings, a judge found that she had the right to inspect, read and maintain the meter and directed the couple to either remove the gate or provide their neighbour with a key.
The judge was highly critical of the pensioners’ behaviour – referring to the woman as a spiteful troublemaker and to her husband as bombastic – and, after ruling against them on every point, ordered them to pay the legal costs of the case, a six-figure sum that has since been secured against their home.
In dismissing the couple’s challenge to the judge’s decision, the Court of Appeal could detect no flaw in his approach to the case. That the woman should have access to her own meter was obvious and the contrary view was absurd. The Court observed that, whereas most neighbours would have found a sensible solution to the dispute, the couple had taken their stand on what they considered to be their strict legal rights. To their great cost, they were wrong about those rights.
The Access to Neighbouring Land Act 1992 and other legislation gives the right of legal access over land in appropriate circumstances even if there is not an ‘easement’ registered over the property.