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Property and Boundary Disputes

Boundary Disputes – what is a boundary?

The boundary between two properties or plots of land is a common cause of neighbourly boundary disputes.

“boundary” has no special meaning in law. There are two ways in which the word “boundary” can be used: legal boundary and physical boundary:

• The legal boundary is an imaginary and invisible line dividing one property from another. It is a line with no thickness or width and is rarely identified with any precision either on the ground or in transfer documents and is not shown on Ordnance Survey mapping.

• The physical boundary is a physical feature such as a fence, wall or a hedge, which may, coincidentally, also follow the line of a legal boundary but which may not.

Boundary Disputes – where does the boundary line lie?

When looking to see when the boundary line, two documents can help. The HM Land Registry Register of Title and Title Plan (for registered land) and Title Deeds (for unregistered land).

Register of Title
All properties that are sold or mortgaged must now be registered at HM Land Registry.
The Register of Title will provide a brief description of the property and reference the Title Plan (see below) and will either contain wording from the Title Deeds (see below), such as covenants or rights and easements, or make reference to those Title Deeds where copies have been retained by HM Land Registry.

Title Plan
The Title Plan shows the boundary line around your property, usually edged red. However, this is only an approximation and does not determine the exact boundary line. The Title Plan is to support the property description in the Title Register by providing a graphic representation and identifying the general extent and boundaries of the land. Due to the difficulties in establishing the position of the legal boundary, and because it is not possible for Ordnance Survey to replicate the exact position of each physical feature on the ground, the great majority of Registered Titles show only the “general boundaries”. Therefore the title plan cannot solely be relied upon as definitive evidence in a boundary dispute.

Title Deeds
The Title Deeds of unregistered land will usually contain a document called a Conveyance or Transfer. Within these documents should be a plan. The plan should show where the boundary line is. However, again, this is not wholly accurate. The same document may also show you who is responsible for maintaining a boundary.

Boundary Disputes – who is responsible for maintaining what part of the boundary?

The Register of Title or Title Deeds may confirm this in a written statement. The Title Plan or plan to the Conveyance or Transfer will mark with a “T” who is responsible for maintaining the boundary. If there is not a “T” present on the plan, then it is assumed that there is a joint responsibility for the maintenance of that boundary.

Types of boundary disputes

Along with a dispute about the location of the boundary. boundary disputes can also include:

• Who has responsibility for repairs or the maintenance of boundary structures such as walls, fences, trees, hedges;

• Trees or hedges growing onto another’s property

• Property encroaching onto another’s property

• Access disputes

• Objections to extensions

• Adverse possession (where one party takes possession of the land, with the necessary intention to possess and without the owner’s consent).

How to prevent boundary disputes

As the exact location of boundaries of a property can be unclear, or neighbours may be unclear as to their boundary obligations, the neighbours could agree a boundary agreement to provide clarity as to the location or their obligations. The boundary agreement can be recorded against both neighbours’ Register of Title but will still be a general boundary and HM Land Registry is not guaranteeing that the legal boundary is where the parties have identified it as being in the boundary agreement.

Where the neighbours require the boundary to be the exact line of the boundary rather than a general boundary, the parties can agree for the boundary to be shown as “determined”. HM Land Registry does not determine a boundary in the sense of resolving a dispute between the parties (that can only be determined by a Court or the Land Registration division of the Property Chamber, First-tier Tribunal) but records against both neighbours’ Register of Title where the exact line of the boundary is located, usually with a detailed plan provided by a surveyor.

If you want to make changes to your property or land, which may affect another party, we consider that the best practice is to have open discussions with that party, and where possible have any agreement recorded in writing. 

. This way, if any issues do arise, the agreement can be reproduced.

You should note that any agreement must be with the owner of the land; if your neighbours are renting, you will need agreement with the owner, their landlord.

Some general comments

Boundary disputes:

• are rarely simple;

• usually involve neighbours and their homes and have often come about either because one party did not communicate with the other causing that other party to be aggrieved or because of pre-existing personal feelings between the parties meaning that the parties’ motivation and thought processes are often “clouded” by their personal feelings;

• usually expensive (ball-park £25,000 per side, with the loser potentially paying the winner’s costs).

It should be noted that the parties will likely have to continue as neighbours both throughout the dispute and thereafter.
Any neighbour dispute, complaint, notice or proposal, even if the issue is resolved, or anything which might lead to a dispute, will need to be disclosed on the sale of the property in the seller’s property information form. Whilst completion of the seller’s property information form is not mandatory, a refusal to do so would be unusual and may serve to raise suspicions in any buyer. Accordingly, most people think twice before sending anything that could constitute a dispute, complaint, notice or proposal.

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