You may find it surprising that a solicitor wants to talk about this openly. But I see so many cases that come to us where basic steps haven't been taken. Here's a few things you should do:
1. Try to resolve the dispute amicably where possible. Boundary disputes are expensive and extremely stressful. Warring neighbours can lose their home if they lose in court. As most people won't buy a house once a boundary dispute has started, you may end up stuck with your neighbour for a very long time ! Make love, not war.
2. Make sure you obtain Legal Expense Insurance. These policies can be very cost effective. They are often sold when you buy home insurance, and can cover you for up to £50,000 of legal fees. Whilst that might not cover the whole dispute, it will go some way towards it.
3. Collect the evidence quickly. Photos & video of the historic position of the boundary can be crucial - kids parties, barbecues, the shiny new car. Try to date the photos/ videos. Anything that shows the disputed fence or hedge can be helpful. If you can document the changes over time, including the current position, then all the better. If you ever bought one of those aerial photos of your home, this may be the time to take it out of the attic as it can be helpful.
4. Find a decent expert - not just your local surveyor. Find someone who has extensive court experience in boundary disputes. Ideally they should have given evidence in court. If they've been challenged by a barrister in the past, their report writing will be all the better for it. Sometimes a good expert can resolve disputes between parties.
5. That expert will need your title deeds. And no, that doesn't mean just the land registry plan. They are based on small scale OS maps, and are only said to give a general indication of the boundary (the general boundaries rule). You really need your deeds from before registration - the original transfer, conveyance or lease of your land, with its original plan. These may be with your lender, or your former solicitor. Note that many lenders have "dematerialised" deeds ie thrown them away. That can prove very costly in a dispute. The Land Registry may have copies of some of these documents, which you can request.
6. Speak to family, friends, previous owners and neighbours. See if anyone remembers what was there in the past, or why the land was shaped a certain way. This could prove to be crucial evidence in court. The earlier they give a witness statement the better.
7. Find a specialist land dispute solicitor. Are you surprised that this is so low down the list ? But really, going to law should be the last resort. If you do so, there is again no point using someone you know, who doesn't specialise in this area. You need someone who deals in these types of cases day in, day out. Get an early opinion on your prospects and establish how much the case may cost before you get into a bitter dispute.
By solicitor and Partner, Andrew Leakey