What is a boundary?
A boundary is a line that divides one piece of land from another. It is often invisible but can be marked by objects such as hedges, fences, or water (for example a stream). However, because the land in England and Wales has been settled for many generations, boundary markers are often moved over time or misrecorded in land registry documents. And to make matters further ripe for contention, a physical boundary may not necessarily follow the same lines as the legal one.
In 2015, the Ministry of Justice published a paper on boundary disputes. It identified that the causes of these disagreements could be divided into two categories; legal/technical and personal. And as you may have guessed, it does not take much for the former to spill over into the latter.
How are property boundaries determined?
The primary source for establishing a boundary are the title deeds of the property. Development plans can also be useful.
If the boundary laid out on the title is clear, it prevails over any other evidence to the contrary.
The case of Acco Properties Ltd v Severn  EWHC 1362 (Ch) set out several principles on settling boundary disputes:
- Registered title filed plans usually show general boundaries rather than the exact boundary line.
- Ordnance Survey (OS) plans are usually only a general guide to boundary features and should not be scaled up to delineate an exact boundary.
- The starting point is the wording of the conveyance and the conveyance plan or, if the plan is stated to be definitive, guided by the plan.
- If the conveyance is not clear, then extrinsic evidence may be considered, for example, features which existed at the date of the conveyance.
- Evidence of the parties' subsequent conduct may be relevant and admissible if it reveals what the parties intended.
- Evidence of features after the date of the conveyance may be relevant.
- The boundary needs to be clear rather than "fuzzy at the edges".
- Even if the boundary is clear from the conveyance other evidence may show a different boundary as a result of adverse possession.
- An informal boundary agreement need not be in writing as it demarcates an unclear boundary rather than operating to transfer an interest in land.
- Boundary agreements are usually oral but can be inferred or implied.
- The court should have regard to what a reasonable layman would think that he was buying.
Resolving disputes outside of Court
By considering the above principles, disputing parties’ Solicitors can work together through negotiation to reach an agreement. If this proves unsuccessful, the parties may find consensus can be reached through mediation. Formal litigation should only be considered as a last resort, especially given that some case law shows that the Courts may be unsympathetic to the parties when it comes to awarding costs. For example, in Rashid v Sharif  EWCA Civ 377, damages were assessed at only £300 and, as all claims for costs were dismissed, each party had to bear their own costs, which would have amounted to tens of thousands of pounds.
Parliament to save the day? New Legislation for Neighbour Property Disputes 2019.
The Property Boundaries (Resolution of Disputes) Bill [HL] 2017-19 is currently awaiting its second reading in the House of Lords. Should it become law, boundary disputes will be settled by a surveyor and their decision will be considered final unless it is challenged within 28 days via an appeal to the High Court.
How can you deal with a boundary dispute?
If you are concerned about the boundaries of your property or your neighbour’s actions, please talk to us in confidence. Our Solicitors will advise you on your legal rights, but more importantly, how to resolve the dispute in a way that preserves good relations as far as possible and keeps costs under control.
Guillaumes LLP Solicitors are a law firm in Weybridge with specialist property dispute lawyers ready to help you fight your corner. We have highly experienced residential and commercial property solicitors who can assist you with all matters concerning boundary disputes. Make an appointment with us by submitting an enquiry to speak to our experts.
Please note, this article does not constitute legal advice.