With a lot of us spending more time in our homes and gardens, more and more of us are taking the time to embark on outdoor DIY projects and renovations, or simply enjoy our outside space. Unfortunately, this can lead to any underlying disagreements with our neighbours springing to the fore.
One of the most common disputes we are seeing relate to the location of the boundaries enjoyed by neighbouring properties. This article seeks to answer some of the key questions that are asked by clients experiencing such problems.
Where do I start?
Boundary disputes can be expensive and time consuming. Before you enter into any litigation with your neighbour, you need to be confident that you know where your boundaries lie.
This isn’t as simple as it sounds. The first place you should look is at your property title documents. If you do not have these to hand and your property is registered at HM Land Registry, they will be available to download for a small fee. It would be sensible to obtain the title documents for your neighbour’s property too; this information is publicly available and may contain more information than your own provides.
Can I rely on the title plans?
Whilst the title plan available at HM Land Registry can be very informative, it is important to remember that the boundary shown on the title plans is not definitive and instead gives a general boundary only.
Therefore you need to obtain and consider the pre-registration title deeds to determine the exact legal boundary. You should look out for a document which transfers each piece of land (both your own and your neighbour’s) and creates the boundary in question. The hope is that this document will contain a well-drawn and scaled plan which clearly determines the location of the boundary itself.
What if the deeds are unclear or unavailable?
Unfortunately given the likely historical nature of the deeds you will be considering, they are often of a poor quality or may even be lost or damaged. This may prevent you from being able to clearly determine the location of your boundary.
It is helpful in this instance to obtain any other supporting evidence of the boundaries, such as historical photographs of your property, or consider any physical features on the ground.
Can I always rely on the boundary location defined in my deeds?
Whilst the deeds provide a starting position to determine your boundary, you do need to bear in mind that it is possible for boundaries to be altered. Most commonly this is either by agreement between previous owners of your properties, or by a legal doctrine known as adverse possession.
Most boundary agreements will be in writing and should be noted on your title documents. It is therefore useful to check your title documents, as well as any information you were provided with at the time you bought your property, for any mention of a boundary agreement. However, do bear in mind that some boundary agreements made informally and their existence therefore may not be apparent from the title documents.
Boundaries can be legally changed by a person adversely possessing land through occupying it exclusively for an extensive period of time. It has become more difficult to adversely possess land further to legislation introduced in 2003, and adverse possession is a very complex area of law, so we would always advise that you take legal advice prior to making any such claim in a dispute with your neighbour.
What can I do if my neighbour disagrees with the location of the boundary?
If you are unable to determine the location of your boundary definitively, or if your neighbour disagrees with your findings, you and your neighbour may wish to consider the joint appointment of a surveyor to determine the boundary for you, at a shared cost. Surveyors will use the title deeds available, along with any historical images of the property and physical features on the ground, to determine the boundary.
You should agree with your neighbour to be bound by the decision of the surveyor, and consider recording this in a boundary agreement if necessary to avoid future disputes.
Alternatively, you could consider applying to HM Land Registry to determine the boundary and record the outcome on your respective titles. Your neighbour will be involved in this process, and disagreements are likely to be referred to the Land Tribunal.
A last resort would be to apply to the Court for a determination of the boundary. You should be aware that the costs involved in boundary disputes can easily become disproportionate, so you should explore all other options available to you to resolve any dispute before embarking on this process.
If required, our experienced and pragmatic Property Litigation team can assist you with:
- investigating your title documents to assist with determining your boundary;
- advising on whether adverse possession may apply;
- negotiating with your neighbour to reach a practical and sensible agreement about the location of your boundary; or
- dealing with a boundary dispute which has reached the Court or Land Tribunal.
Should you require our assistance, please do not hesitate to get in touch with one of our team to discuss.
Stephanie Rushfirth, Solicitor firstname.lastname@example.org
Call us on 01562 820181.