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Countless Brits are getting through the lockdown by throwing themselves in to gardening and are learning what gardeners over time have always known in their bones – that being in a garden is fantastic for physical and mental health.

Yet millions of people who don’t have access to their own garden are having to make do with communal spaces, shared gardens or nothing at all.

If you’re living in a house divided in to flats, you may have the biggest property, but the basement flat might have the sole rights to the garden. Leaving you to look longingly out of the window at ‘er or ‘im from downstairs basking in the sunshine.

This can pose a few ‘thorny’ problems. I spoke to top TV legal expert, Gray Rycroft to cover your rights to cut down the fights.

So what are your rights?

If you’re buying a flat in a house divided into flats – or renting one – then the Lease or Tenancy Agreement should clearly set out have rights (and responsibilities) in relation to access the garden. If you’re buying, your solicitor will provide you with a copy, whereas if you’re renting ask your landlord or the letting agency.

The lease is where it can get a bit complicated. There could be any number of different arrangements which were put in place when the flats were originally built, divided up or sold off. Sometimes the garden is retained by the freeholder (Landlord) who is responsible for other ‘common parts’ like insuring the building. Or the garden can be owned by one or more of the leaseholders (Tenants) but the lease gives shared rights and responsibilities.

Another variation on the theme may be that certain flats in the building have only partial access to part of the garden to for example put the bins out or access a bike store. All these kinds of ‘rules’ should be in the lease.

Of course, if you own your garden (whether it be a flat or house) you can do what you like in it – within reason and subject to some legal constraints. The planting or failure to control aggressive plants such Japanese knotweed may lead you to your neighbours claiming damages from you, building a fence more than 1 metre high next to a path or highway or 2 metres elsewhere will require planning permissions and nude sunbathing might well in extreme cases ‘outrage public decency’. There may also be ‘covenants’ on the land set out in the deeds to a house or in the lease of a flat which impose rules (‘keep the garden tidy’) or place restrictions (‘don’t hang washing outside’) which have an impact on the use and enjoyment of your garden. Other activities prohibited by covenants might be barbeques, large gatherings, noise after a certain time and building structures in the garden.

Gary’s main advice from a legal perspective is good old-fashioned common sense. As a general rule, living in a property divided up in to flats or in a house on an estate means there’s a number of motivating factors to get on with your neighbours. The absolute golden rule is this: try for as hard and as long as possible not to fall out. It has been predicted ‘lockdown’ will lead to more divorces and not far behind that is an expecting raise in neighbour disputes. However, don’t start waving around contracts and making demands unless you really, really feel you have to. You have to live with these people.

If the rights of access and rules around garden etiquette aren’t clear, or if you think they don’t understand them sit down with your neighbours and have a friendly chat. Don’t be too officious. A ‘gentleman/woman’s agreement is so much easier to sort out and stick to. And remember if you own the flat or house and want to sell it in the future (as most people do eventually) you may have to disclose to a buyer any ‘neighbour disputes’ which can often be a big turn off.

Even if you don’t have rights to access a garden, but your neighbour does, lockdown has led to some lovely stories about the sharing of otherwise ‘exclusive’ spaces. This is to be applauded. But if you are tempted to be generous with your outdoor space, make sure you (politely) set out ground rules and time limits from the off. And just because you’ve been allowed in the garden during lockdown doesn’t mean you acquire so-called ‘squatters rights’ – you don’t because such rights can only be secured without the express permission of the land owner.

Gardens which are already set up as ‘communal’ are a bit different in the sense that they are usually governed by a tenants/management association or the landlord. Anyone who has ever lived in flats or homes with a communal garden will know there’s a ton of rules around using them, from noise to smelly food and fags. These can be set by the holder of rights/management association, but if you think they are restrictive or unfair you can complain.

The lockdown has led to many of us finally getting to know our neighbours – social distancing rules applying, of course. It would be great to think that some of the real positive things, like community, spirit, carry on even when we can finally go out once more.

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