Boundary Disputes & The Best Action To Take

Stewart Patterson - barrister, commercial and business property expertBoundary Disputes

Boundary disputes are unfortunately quite common, and can be very distressing for those involved. They apply equally to boundaries between fields or large areas of land and boundaries between the gardens in a built-up area. The same considerations and the same law apply.

You may think that all you have to do is to go to the land registry and look at the plan there, or look at the plans attached to the title deeds in order to see where the boundary lies. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Under what is called “the general boundaries rule” the plan found that the registry does not define the exact boundary. It is intended to indicate who is the owner of the land, but not precisely the extent of the land.

This is partly because the land registry plan, or the plan attached to a conveyance, is on a very small scale. Consequently, the thickness of the line on the plan is likely to represent a much more substantial area on the land. This is important because in many cases a dispute about the boundary may be a dispute about narrow strip of land.

Secondly there may be long-standing identifying features on the land such as walls, hedges and fences, streams or undulations in the land which appear to be the real demarcations of the boundary.  Where these differ from the line drawn on the plan, they are likely to take priority over the plan.

How boundaries come into being

Boundaries arise when land is divided into two or more areas of plots. This may have occurred many years ago long before any of the present occupants came into possession of the land. Although the lines on a plan annexed to a conveyance or found the registry may not be definitive as to the boundary, it is a starting point. As has been seen however, various features of the land may make it obvious that the lines on a plan are not accurate as to the position of the boundary.

Because it is not always obvious where the actual boundary lies it is usually necessary to employ the services of a land surveyor as well as those of a solicitor or barrister. As surveyors do not always agree as to whether boundary lies, particularly if features of the land are relied upon, these services do not always solve the problem.

Another way in which boundaries are formed is by way of a boundaries agreement. Unless in writing these do not normally involve the conveyance of land from one party to another, but are designed to define the place in which the boundary lies. Such agreements are encouraged by the courts and are enforceable even when the property has changed hands and there are new owners on either side.

A further complication arises where despite a clear line being drawn on the plan or indicated by features on the land, one party has occupied the land to the exclusion of the other for a considerable period of time. Such a party can obtain ownership of the land by what is called “adverse possession”. In such cases questions will arise as to whether the possession was exclusive, whether it was without the consent of the other party, and how long it lasted.

boundary disputes

How boundaries disputes arise

Boundaries issues arise for a number of reasons. It can be because one of the owners has noticed that offence, hedge, or other apparent indication of a boundary on the land does not coincide with the plan attached to the conveyance or filed at the registry. He may raise the issue and ask for the boundary to be defined. This can be done on application to the land registry. The boundary may have to be defined by the Tribunal.

Alternatively the issue often arises because one party has encroached upon the land of another. For example he may have moved a fence or constructed a fence in a new place. Sometimes a person actually constructs a building, possibly an outbuilding, or other wall on his neighbour’s land. In such circumstances the neighbour may seek to object by applying to the court for an injunction, to prevent further building, or to have the construction demolished.

As can be seen many questions can arise with regard to dispute as to the boundary between two pieces of land. These are often difficult to resolve and recourse to a court of law can be very expensive and lengthy. Such cases often go on for months or even years. The costs can mount up to £30,000 or £40,000 on either side, and the loser will probably have to pay the other side’s costs as well as his own. Meanwhile the stress and aggravation of a conflict of this sort between neighbours can be a considerable strain particularly as the day of a court hearing approaches.

Mediation in boundaries disputes

Mediation is particularly useful in boundaries disputes because of the strain and cost of court proceedings between neighbours. A dispute of this sort if taken to court is likely to last for a considerable length of time and the animosity between the neighbours is likely to grow and grow.

Negotiations in such cases often break down and neighbours even end up not being on speaking terms one with the other. This is precisely the kind of case in which the intervention of a neutral mediator can help. He will bring the parties together and help them to understand each other’s position.

Even though the parties are deeply entrenched with their own particular views and claims on the land, it is surprising how frequently a good mediator can encourage them to reach agreement. It is highly desirable that this should take place because, after all, the parties have to continue to live in adjoining properties as neighbours.

 

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Stewart Patterson
Barrister, Mediator & Arbitrator

Pump Court Chambers,
31 Southgate Street,
Winchester
SO23 9EB
Tel: 01962 690061
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