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Mar 27, 2024

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In our secular society, Easter has lost some of its religious importance, but for Christians, it is the most important religious festival of the year. Christian values of love and forgiveness, whilst sometimes buried beneath layers of modern life, remain important foundations for a cohesive society.

Our media is filled with stories that reveal the worst, rather than the best of us. A recent article I came across covered a boundary fence dispute between two warring neighbours. After about $10,000 in legal costs, neither side seemed any closer to a resolution with each party claiming the moral and legal high ground. Not much Easter spirit on display here.

The exact detail of the boundary fence dispute is not revealed, but it is a shame that such a dispute has escalated to cost thousands of dollars and, more importantly, ruined a neighbourly relationship. Real estate agents are able to recount many stories involving neighbourly disputes and some sales occur due to neighbourly disharmony.

Many neighbourly disagreements stem not from social disharmony, but from legal ones. The repair, replacement or alignment of boundary fences, Rights of Carriageway, the use of Common Property in Strata Schemes and Easements all carry certain obligations for those affected by them. Solving disputes with such matters is normally quite straight forward because there is either legislation that provides the framework for a solution or common law precedent that defines a prior legal decision.

Sections 14 and 15 of the Dividing Fences Act WA 1961, for example provides detailed rules as to who pays for the cost of repairing a dividing boundary fence. Arguments may arise when one neighbour refuses to contribute but the Act provides a process for recovering monies due.

Arguably more difficult is boundary alignment issues particularly in areas like Fremantle. I would wager that probably the majority of boundary fences of inner city housing in Fremantle are imperfectly aligned. In some cases, the boundary fence may be out by a significant margin. Such title encroachments can lead to the more complex legal matter of “adverse possession” under specific circumstances and whilst common in real estate vernacular, actual claims for adverse possession are relatively rare.

Thankfully, neighbours prefer to live harmoniously and a misaligned boundary that has been in situ for decades in normal circumstances is often better left alone. The ability for neighbours to compromise over normally petty issues goes a long way to providing years of friendly “hellos” and a good supply of lemons from over the side fence.