The excesses and expense of boundary disputes never seem too far away from our national press. Often we scoff at the number of years of stress and the legal expense invested by the protagonists. Only recently an expensive house is being sold to meet the costs of a lost boundary dispute over 3 inches! The emotive nature of such disputes can often cloud common sense.
Why are such disputes so common and how might you look to reduce the risk?
In considering these questions why is there not a defined boundary on the title deeds:
A boundary may be legally defined within title deeds or at the Land Registry, but that is not to say that it is apparent on the ground.
There may be a physical boundary that is not on the same line as the legal boundary.
It might be that over a number of years since the legal boundary was established, use of the land has contradicted that original intention.
The plans for that legal boundary may be illustrative only or may be wrong.
There can be conflicting descriptions within each title or indeed within the same title document.
Plans and descriptions within the same title document might conflict.
Plans are often to a scale where the mark showing the location of the boundary is too thick
A plan might show a measurement, but that conflicts with the point or the line and scale of the actual plan on which it is drawn. There is no assumption where there is a contradiction between the measurement noted on the plan and its actual scale in favour of the former.
Taking a line up and down from the boundary line may become complicated by a neighbour having had services in place for many years without issue.
Over the years such issues have taxed the courts.
The starting point for establishing the boundary would be the description in the original deeds and any plans. Depending on the wording the description or plan might be paramount and if ambiguous, it is possible to look at external evidence. It might be Contracts or sale details from the time, old photographs or, in this day, google maps can all play a role as might Planning Applications showing the parties’ understanding at the time.
The difficulty is that, having undertaken that exercise, the fact that a neighbour may have occupied an area incorrectly for a number of years can in certain circumstances override the original position.
If the deeds refer to an O.S. plan that would indicate that any physical boundary feature, such as a wall, would be owned to the mid-point. It is, though, common for such plans to be referred to as for identification purposes only, which would negate the plan and any assumptions based on that.
Where land has been split, the plan might have marked upon the boundary line a “T” which would show the owner of the boundary feature. However, if the document does not recite the “T” as showing ownership that is ignored, although may provide some evidence. Of course, that might alter, such as when the adjoining owner replaces the fence with one of their own, or claims to have done so on their side of that boundary.
Increasingly property is now held on the national database at HM Land Registry. Not all land is registered and the Land Registry default rule is that the boundary lines shown on their title plans are illustrative only. There is a process to fix the boundary location which involves both neighbours and a detailed plan, although there are relatively few who take advantage of such a procedure.
Over the years there have been a number of presumptions as a starting point covering:
Land adjacent to highways
The Hedge and Ditch rule
Are not used often enough. While neighbours might not wish to go to the expense of properly prepared plans to show a definitive boundary, it is possible to have an agreement as to the boundary ownership filed at the Land Registry in an attempt to avoid future disputes.
When buying, seek guidance or check the Solicitors Report as to the boundaries and any property description. If in any doubt, arrange to speak to the neighbours as good communication is always best. If they intend to carry out works, make sure you discuss any concerns before they start. Otherwise you may be punished for letting them spend monies before raising the issue.
If you subsequently reach agreement with a neighbour, document it by way of a Boundary Agreement.
Keep a photographic record of your boundaries when you move in for future reference.
If you have any queries about a potential or existing Boundary Dispute then please do not hesitate to contact Mrs Emma Northover at email@example.com or on 01404 548050.