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Boundary disputes: facts and myths

Jun 26, 2023 | Uncategorised

Boundary disputes are surprisingly common. Churchill Home Insurance reported that in June 2022 around 6.6 million Brits were involved in one.

These typically focused on fences, walls and hedges, but also covered boundary features like overhanging trees and driveways.

These disputes often concern small pieces of land. The same report says that the average size in dispute is usually around two percent of an average garden.

They often arise because of a tension that exists between what you might call a “common sense” view of boundaries and legal technicalities.

The boundaries of a property are often clear to the homeowner – but they don’t necessarily translate into legal reality. That’s because physical boundaries (walls, fences and the like) aren’t the same as legal boundaries – though they sometimes overlap.

A legal boundary is like the equator – an imaginary line.

That doesn’t stop people from wanting to know exactly what their property’s boundaries are. It could be that they think their neighbour is trespassing or that they want to know who’s responsible for a fence that’s blown over.

There are a lot of myths surrounding boundary disputes that can lead people to escalate the situation unnecessarily. In this article, we bust some myths about boundary disputes and look at how you can proceed if you find yourself involved in one.

Can the Land Registry help?

The Land Registry is a bit like the ombudsman or the gall bladder – lots of people know that it exists but few people know exactly what it does.

It’s essentially a library of land ownership documents. It doesn’t usually hold information relating to boundary responsibility and it can’t help sort out any boundary disputes.

Sometimes, your title deeds will mention boundary responsibilities. If they do, that information will also be held by the Land Registry. You can download a copy of the register and the title plan for your property – for a small fee.

However, title deeds – and therefore title plans – rarely specify legal boundaries. The title plan is based on your local Ordnance Survey map, which is not accurate enough to determine most boundaries in a dispute.

On top of that, it’s important to note that any boundary provisions in the title deeds may not be completely up to date.

Can you fix boundaries more precisely?

You can – but in most cases, it’s not necessary. Most owners and neighbours are clear about who owns what and are happy for them to be demarcated by features like walls and fences.

If you do want to define your property’s boundaries more precisely, you’re looking at a lot of time and money. You’ll need to hire a qualified surveyor to create a precise plan. Along the way, you’ll probably upset the neighbours.

For this reason, a better way forward can be to reach a boundary agreement with your neighbour. Legal action should be a last resort.

Churchill Home Insurance reported that nearly half of all boundary disputes are resolved face to face. Most of us would agree that this is a much more desirable outcome than protracted legal action.

More myths about boundary disputes

  1. MYTH: you automatically own the left-hand – or right-hand – fence as seen when facing the house.
  2. MYTH: a T-mark on a plan means that you own a boundary. In fact, a T-mark can be trumped by the property’s original conveyancing documents.
  3. MYTH: if you mow the grass on your neighbour’s open-plan front garden, you can claim it as your own.
  4. MYTH: you can park on a private right of way if you own the land it rests on.
  5. MYTH: you can park on a private right of way if it provides access to your land.

What is adverse possession?

Adverse possession is where someone possesses land for long enough that they become the legal owner. You might hear the phrase in relation to long-term squatting – but it also applies to boundary disputes.

If somebody has technically trespassed over a long period but the landowner hasn’t objected, the trespasser can have legal grounds to claim the land.

This could happen if, for example, a homeowner erects a boundary fence that goes over the neighbour’s garden but the neighbour doesn’t notice or mind.

Can a boundary dispute affect the value of your house?

The short answer is yes – if you’re trying to sell it while the dispute is still in motion. An ongoing boundary dispute can give both buyers and mortgage lenders cold feet.

What if you rent the property?

If you rent your home, it’s important not to act on the landlord’s behalf. You shouldn’t, for instance, make any changes to walls or fences without permission.

If you get into a boundary dispute concerning a rented property, your first port of call is to flag the issue with your landlord and let them take over.

How do you resolve a boundary dispute?

As with noisy neighbours, your priority when dealing with a boundary dispute is to reach an agreement with them directly. This isn’t just because it’s amicable – it can also save you money.

If negotiations break down, you can look into mediation. This is where a qualified professional helps the two parties reach an agreement. It’s not the same as a court case and it doesn’t deliver a verdict of guilty or not guilty. It aims to resolve the dispute without ending up in legal proceedings.

If mediation fails, your last resort is to go to court.

If you have reached an impasse with a neighbour over a boundary dispute, it can be advisable to get legal advice early on. That way, you’re armed with the facts you need to get the issue sorted as painlessly as possible.

At Milners Law, we offer expert legal advice at affordable rates. Our team of knowledgeable, no-nonsense solicitors in Yorkshire will be happy to help you with a boundary dispute. Get in touch today for a free, no-obligation consultation.

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