Walled in by neighbours

It’s one thing to argue with neighbours from time to time over access to a shared driveway but quite another to wall them into their own home after a 10-year planning battle escalates into open warfare.

A British couple in their 70s bought a house in rural France in August 2004 and thought that all would be plain sailing, until another couple from the UK bought the house next door and immediately objected to the fact that their driveway was used by the neighbours.

Pensioners John and Fait Dyson decided to retire to an area near Carcassone and quickly made friends with the locals. However, when Forbes and Krystyna Dunlop arrived, they argued that the Dyson’s front windows overlooked their land and said they had no right to access their front door across their driveway. At one point they even parked a van across the front of the Dyson’s house forcing them to use a side door.

Finally, 10 years later, the matter exploded when the Dunlops built a wall across the Dyson’s front door and extended a previously erected barricade across the three main front windows of the Dyson’s home, virtually plunging it into darkness.

Access to the Dyson’s house via the Dunlop’s drive was not written into the deeds of the Dunlop house but French law guarantees the right of way if an entrance has been used continuously for at least 30 years and the Dysons have produced a series of affidavits to confirm that this is the case with their house.

If both parties lived in the UK, it is highly unlikely that the matter would escalate as it has, because a solicitor would check the title deeds before a purchase to see what rights may have been expressly granted. However, if none have been, or if the entrance has not been used continuously for 20 years or more, then it may be better not to continue or face legal battles in the future

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Nigel is the Managing Partner and Head of Litigation and Dispute Resolution in the London office of Mackrell Turner Garrett.