Informal agreements can often lead to problems later on, particularly relating to property.

One such arrangement recently led to neighbours facing one another in Court over a set of gates which had been placed at the entrance to the driveway which their two properties shared.

The neighbours who placed the gates in front of the drive did not own it, but had the legal right of access over it. The owners of the drive acquiesced in the erection of the gates and the arrangement continued amicably for some time.

However, the neighbours who had erected the gates later decided, because of fears about security, to close them when not in use. This inconvenienced the owners of the drive, who decided to fix the gates in an open position so that they did not have to open them each time they used the drive. They did so by padlocking one of the gates open.

A legal dispute then ensued over the ownership of, and rights with regard to, the gates. The Court decided that the neighbours who had built the gates owned them and could, in principle, have established the legal right to their use. In legal parlance, they could have had an ‘easement’ (a right of use) over the airspace above the drive.

However, on the facts of the case, the Court found that the use they had made of the gates was insufficient in quality and had not continued for a sufficient period of time to establish an easement. This defeat was ameliorated by the Court’s decision that they should have use of the gates (through an ‘equitable easement’) provided that this did not ‘substantially interfere’ with the ‘reasonable enjoyment’ of their neighbours over their own land.

If you give another person the informal right to use of your property, a legal right can develop over time in appropriate circumstances. Failing to formalise such arrangements can lead to the expense of a Court appearance.