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Updated: 29 January 2020

Boundary disputes, fence placement and encroachment are hot topics among neighbours of all types, whether in commercial or industrial buildings or your local streets.

In the 2017/18 financial year, over four thousand people contacted the Legal Services Commission of South Australia enquiry line for advice on fencing and retaining wall placement disputes between neighbours. Over 700 advice sessions were held on this topic alone, the third most frequent topic of discussion, and the top publication distributed by the Legal Services Commission was ‘Fences and the Law’, with 7,776 copies distributed throughout South Australia (read the Commission’s full 2017/18 Annual Report here).

But what causes boundary and encroachment disputes in the first place?

Whether you’re building a fence or retaining wall, removing a tree or placing a new driveway, the boundary of your property needs to be clearly outlined.

Boundaries that are misunderstood or inaccurately measured can lead to encroachment disputes with your neighbours. A licensed surveyor can help you prevent misunderstandings and disputes through accurate boundary measurement. A surveyor can also provide expert advice on how to resolve a dispute with the right information at hand.

Know your boundaries

If you need to construct a new fence or wall on your property, or you need to check if you are encroaching onto your neighbour’s property, a clearly marked boundary is the best help you could have.

To prevent boundary disputes from occurring, you should get an exact boundary line of your land or property drawn by a licensed surveyor as soon as possible. The surveyor will use highly specialised equipment and technology to ensure the physical boundary on your property matches the information from the Lands Titles Office (LTO).

A full search of records from the LTO will surface any information about the existing boundaries or any changes to those boundaries by the previous owner. Once these boundaries have been identified, a comprehensive plan will be developed. If any conflicting information is discovered, we recommend that a comprehensive survey plan is lodged with the Lands Titles Office to help protect your interests.

I think my neighbour is encroaching onto my land

Placement of a fence may not be an accurate representation of the boundary line and it doesn’t alter the actual boundary or the ownership of that land. You have the right to dispute the placement of any structure or object that may be encroaching onto your land.

If you think your neighbour has incorrectly placed their fence or their driveway or structure is overlapping your property, there are a few things you can do before contacting your lawyer.

First, understand what the dispute is about and exactly where your property boundary is. Get a licensed surveyor to assess the property and physically mark out the boundaries accurately. This includes measuring the location of all improvements on the site and mapping their relationship to the boundary. Our team of licensed surveyors will obtain existing Lands Titles Office records, undertake a full site survey to determine and mark the property boundary, and prepare a plan to show the results of our survey. They can also advise of options going forward to amend any issues.

Talk through any boundary issues with your neighbour; they simply may not be aware they are placing things on your land. Try to help them understand your perspective and show them exactly what you are concerned about.

If you need help, Community Mediation Services are available through your local council. A mediator is an independent third party that can assist you to move through boundary disputes and solve the problem. If chatting with your neighbour and contacting an independent mediation service still hasn’t resolved your issue, contact your solicitor for legal advice and any next steps.

I’ve been accused of encroaching on my neighbours land

If your neighbour has raised an encroachment or boundary dispute with you, there are some things to be aware of which could help to resolve the issue or avoid it altogether.

Speak with your neighbour and understand their concerns about the boundary or any possible encroachment onto their property. Have a licensed surveyor mark out the boundaries of each of your properties and map them accurately. Often, this step can clear up a lot of confusion and help you both to understand where your land ends and your neighbour’s land begins.

Who pays for a retaining wall or fence?

If you are planning to build or repair a fence between you and your neighbour’s properties, you need to give your neighbour adequate notice about the work before you begin. They should be aware of and consent to the work, as you may need to enter their property to complete it. Although fences are legally owned jointly by both neighbours, there is no legal obligation for them to contribute funds to the repair or installation of a fence. A licensed surveyor can assist you with marking out your land boundaries for accurate fence placement, helping you to avoid any future boundary disputes.

We’ve broken down the SA fencing laws so you know what your responsibilities are as a property owner.

Learn more about retaining walls

Get an accurate boundary survey completed

The best thing you can do to avoid or minimise boundary disputes is to identify the accurate placement of your property boundary.

Contact a Licensed Surveyor to identify and mark out the boundary of your property. This will be helpful not only if you decide to take action to stop your neighbour from encroaching onto your land, but also help you to avoid encroaching onto your neighbour’s land.

A typical boundary identification survey involves our team of licensed surveyors obtaining existing Lands Titles Office records to establish the history of the property. The surveyors will then undertake a comprehensive site survey, identifying and marking the property boundary. Once the survey is complete, our team will prepare a plan signed by a licensed surveyor and share the results of our survey so you can fully understand the boundaries of your property.

Need advice on your property’s boundaries?

Contact our expert team for advice. We’ll assess your land and provide a free quote and appraisal.

Request a free quote