We are regularly instructed on boundary positions and the rights and reservations attached to land either side of those boundaries. Establishing boundaries is important for those who own and live in both residential and commercial properties because the boundary of a property will determine the rights and liabilities within which the property owner or occupier must operate.
What is a boundary?
A boundary is a line which divides two separate pieces of land. It may be physical (i.e. it can be marked by physical features such as a fence, wall, hedge or even a river); or it may be identified only in the title documents and will not always necessarily be apparent on the ground. Physical boundaries do not always follow the same line as legal boundaries.
Boundaries can be fixed by way of an agreement between the owners of two respective pieces of land.
What often transpires is that neighbouring property owners have conflicted ideas as to where a boundary lies. Disputes can arise from various misunderstandings or misconceptions, and tend to surface only after one party takes some action on or near the boundary (e.g. moving the fence on the boundary or starting to build nearby).
Unfortunately, boundary disputes are sometimes resolvable only after the input of solicitors and/or surveyors.
Steps to take
The first step to take in the event that a boundary dispute arises between you and a neighbouring property is to contact your solicitor and ask him or her to investigate the position.
Solicitors can investigate where the boundary lies by looking at the registered title for the two properties. In most cases, the plan held at the Land Registry (known as a title plan) is not sufficiently detailed. It will not usually include measurements, and the lines shown merely indicate the rough locality of the boundary.
In fact, on this plan it will state:
“This title plan shows the general position, not the exact line, of the boundaries. It may be subject to distortions in scale. Measurements scaled from this plan may not match measurements between the same points on the ground.”
As such, your solicitor will usually also investigate older plans and documents, which may be more detailed. In some cases, a surveyor may be able to assist. A surveyor will be able to look at what is on the ground, and advise on the likely physical location of the legal boundary.
2. Letter before action
If, following investigation, your solicitor advises you that your analysis of the position is correct, you may have a claim against your neighbour. This could be a claim for trespass (where they have encroached into your land without permission) or potentially in nuisance. Your solicitor can send a letter of claim to your neighbour explaining the position and setting out how you would like it to be remedied.
Boundary disputes can be very difficult for the parties, not least because you often have to live next to each other. In order to attempt to preserve relations, it is usually advisable to attempt to resolve the dispute by negotiation or mediation. If this is simply not possible, court proceedings can then be issued.
If you would like to speak to one of our property litigation solicitors, call us on 0800 988 7756.