Dad-of-5 made homeless after being forced to sell family house in dispute with neighbour… over garden fence

A DAD-OF-FIVE has been forced to sell his family home after a neighbour dispute sparked by the position of a garden fence.

Mark Coates, 56, and wife Louise, 52, have fought a “bitter” long battle with their neighbours Brian Greenwood, 69, and Janice Turner, 65.

Mark Coates, 56, and wife Louise, 52, have fought a 'bitter' long battle with their neighbours

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Mark Coates, 56, and wife Louise, 52, have fought a ‘bitter’ long battle with their neighboursCredit: Champion News
The row arose over the position of a fence and ownership of a track beside their semi-detached homes

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The row arose over the position of a fence and ownership of a track beside their semi-detached homesCredit: Supplied by Champion News
Brian Greenwood, 69, outside the High Court after a hearing over the row

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Brian Greenwood, 69, outside the High Court after a hearing over the rowCredit: Champion News

The row arose over the position of a fence and ownership of a track beside their semi-detached homes in the East Sussex countryside near Hastings.

Each claimed the other had set up “surveillance cameras” to monitor the others, a court heard.

Mark, who is a full-time carer for his disabled son, was accused of swearing at his neighbours and throwing stones at their bedroom window.

The two couples had been warned when they first reached court in 2020 that the dispute could end in financial ruin for one of them.

Now, four years later, having lost the case, Mark and his learning assistant wife face just that with court bills totalling around £475,000.

High Court judge Master James Brightwell said a forced sale of the property – thought to be worth about £420,000 – was the only way that the debt would be paid.

But Mark told the judge that he doubted whether the house would sell for that amount, adding: “I don’t know who would want to live next to them anyway.”

The neighbours began rowing over the boundary between their gardens and between the Coates’ garden and an access track bought by their neighbours behind it.

Janice objected to the taking down of a fence and erection of a brick wall, which she claimed encroached on her property.

But what was a row over a small strip of land descended into chaos, with allegations made on both sides of various forms of unneighbourly behaviour.

Neighbours always steal my parking space – so I came up with a very creative solution to stop them

In September 2022, Judge Sarah Venn found against Mark and Louise at Hastings County Court on the row over the position of the boundary.

Mark was then hauled back to court in October 2023 and accused of “juvenile behaviour” by his neighbours.

He had damaged their property by throwing stones at a bedroom window and swearing at them.

The judge was shown video which she said showed Mark approaching Janice, “visibly angry” and making “abusive comments and engaged in physically threatening behaviour.”

She also found that comments made by Mark in court amounted to a “threat” to his neighbours or their property.

He was jailed for 252 days for contempt of court, reduced after 47 days behind bars to allow his immediate release at the Court of Appeal in December last year.

Earlier this month the case went back to court, as Brian and Janice applied for an order for sale of the Coates’ house so that the bills can be paid.

Mark and Louise, representing themselves, fought the application, arguing that they still have cases running in other courts which might see the boundary row continue.

I’ve just had grief after grief. I don’t know how we are holding it together.

Mark Coates

They complained that the case was unfair, with them having to fight it alone without legal assistance in face of their neighbours’ expensive team of lawyers.

“We are not going to stop fighting this matter, even if it’s eight or 10 years down the line,” Mark told the judge, Master Brightwell.

“We haven’t got money. We are representing ourselves because we haven’t got any money.

“The only asset we have is the property. It’s our house for our disabled son and ourselves.”

Describing their plight as an “absolute scandal,” Louise insisted that – despite the rulings against them – the case was “not one-sided.”

“The impact on my children and my life has been horrendous,” she said.

“We have been discriminated against because of our financial status and lack of legal support.”

Ruling that the house should be sold, the judge said there was “no reasonable prospect” of the debt being repaid otherwise.

Speaking afterwards, Mark talked of the devastating impact of the dispute on his family.

“I went to prison for seven weeks and I’d never been to prison before,” he said.

“If I said I went to prison over a boundary dispute, nobody would believe me.

“Everyone has been really affected. I’m going to be homeless. My son is going to be homeless. We’ve got to rehouse the dog.

“I’ve just had grief after grief. I don’t know how we are holding it together.”

A picture taken from the Coates' garden in 2015. The fence is on the right of image

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A picture taken from the Coates’ garden in 2015. The fence is on the right of imageCredit: Supplied by Champion News
Janice Turner, 65, objected to the taking down of a fence and erection of a brick wall

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Janice Turner, 65, objected to the taking down of a fence and erection of a brick wallCredit: Champion News

What are my rights in this situation?

BOUNDARY disputes are a common reason for neighbours to fall out.

We explain how to resolve a boundary dispute with your neighbour.

Check the boundary

You can check the boundary by looking at the the deeds to a property.

If you haven’t already got these, you can purchase them from the Land Registry on the government’s website for £3.

This will show the layout and boundaries of the land you own.

Note that you can also purchase a neighbour’s title deeds to see whether any extra property boundaries are outlined in theirs that aren’t in yours.

Sometimes, a T will be marked on a property line to denote responsibility for the boundary.

If you’re in a dispute with a neighbour about property boundaries, you can get the Land Registry to step in.

It will be able to define a boundary that everyone agrees on and will prevent future arguments.

However, this can be difficult as the Land Registry has strict requirements and needs detailed plans.

Try a mediation service

It’s best to keep tensions low by talking things through if possible and avoid making the situation worse.

If you really can’t come to an agreement, mediation services could be a good place to go as they’re cheaper than court costs.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors offers a service to help neighbours resolve rows about boundary lines and related issues.

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