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Boundary problems in property transactions

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As part of our series of blogs around issues relating to the agriculture and farming sector, our latest piece is penned by Lauren Collins, a paralegal in our Agriculture and Rural Affairs department.

To round off September, Lauren covers the importance of boundaries, why there can be disputes with neighbours, and how to ensure that through legal agreements, your property is protected over the long-term, especially if you are selling.

The determination of a legal boundary

Across any type of rural or residential property, boundaries are important as they determine the extent of your property, commonly defined by fencing, hedging or a wall. The precise location of a boundary, however, can be a point of extreme contention between neighbours and there are regular cases of issues arising across the UK.

Let’s start first with the background and some facts.

Essentially, a legal boundary is a hypothetical line dividing your property from another. It’s not widely known that legal boundaries are rarely precise and are often based on historical conveyances or agreements, which are also known as pre-registration deeds, if your land is registered. A physical boundary is a feature which you can see on the ground, such as a hedge or wall, and the legal boundary may run within that boundary, but it’s not always the case.

As legal boundaries are historically difficult to determine, the red edging you will see on most Title Plans only show ‘general boundaries’ as HM Land Registry still operates the general boundaries rule, which does not determine the exact lines.

There are, however, two ways to achieve a more precise boundary if necessary, especially if there has been a dispute in the past, or you are looking for exact measurements as part of a land or home sale. The first way is to work with your solicitor to draw up a boundary agreement, or the second approach is to lodge a determined boundary application with HM Land Registry to fix the position of the boundary.

Both can be affective, but I can delve into more detail on each.

Boundary Agreements

Firstly, let’s take a Boundary Agreement. If boundaries can be agreed by, for example, a discussion with a neighbour, you may both find it sensible to enter into a boundary agreement.

This agreement essentially records the boundary between two properties and can also define who is responsible for maintaining the boundary - if that isn’t clear from the title documents or deeds. It’s an agreement which should not involve the transfer of any land between neighbours, as they only seek to formalise the position of the legal boundary as it currently exists ‘on the ground’ as I’ve explained above.

The boundary agreement does not have to be in writing but we strongly recommend it is as this can then be produced, for example, upon the sale of land to evidence where the boundary is and who is responsible for maintaining it.

Determined Boundary Applications

Another approach is to make an application to HM Land Registry to have the boundary determined and confirmed by them.

As the registered owner of a property, you can apply to the registrar to determine the exact line of the boundary of that property and your application must enclose the application form, the application fee, a plan which identifies the boundary and evidence of ownership. It also needs to show physical features surrounding the boundary so that it can be accurately drawn.

It’s important to note that these applications are generally only useful where neighbours agree to the boundary line already. If they don’t, a boundary agreement may be more suitable whereby Land Agents can assist with negotiations between parties to come to an agreement

In terms of the process, the registrar will serve notice of the application on the adjoining landowners if they are satisfied that you have a viable case, and may wish to inspect the property. Any objections must be made within the appropriate time limit or the registrar will complete the application, with each one reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

If successful, HM Land Registry will then make an entry on the Title Register to confirm that the boundary has been determined, or will mark up the Title Plan accordingly.

Whilst there are a number of obvious benefits, successfully having your boundary determined is one way to prevent the location of a boundary being questioned by a neighbour, occupier or squatter of adjoining land.

Summing up

This is a short blog to give an overview of the issues caused by boundaries and the steps which can be taken to protect your land. If boundaries are an issue when selling or buying land, a dispute between neighbours may occur now or in the future. These disputes are often complicated, stressful, time-consuming and costly for all parties involved.

Therefore, if you know you have a discrepancy it is worth taking advice now to see if one of the options above will help you avoid expensive litigation further down the line, especially if you are considering selling your property

About the author

Based in our Worcester office, Lauren Collins is a Paralegal within our nationally-recognised Agricultural and Rural Affairs Division. For a further discussion or more information, readers can contact Lauren through