Resolving Boundary Disputes
It is often surprising to homeowners that the Land Registry plan of their property will almost certainly not define the boundary in anything but the most general terms.
The plans are normally subject to what the Land Registry term "the general boundaries rule" - in other words, the boundary shown on the plans is only intended to be indicative or roughly where it is, not declaratory. Most plans lack any measurements, and even where there are historical plans that do, the measurements are often phrased as "or thereabouts" or ”for identification purposes only". Even more confusingly, it is possible for boundaries to move over time, either by consent between the property owners, or even simply by mistake. Factor that in with land prices being so high, and even relatively small parcels of land adding potentially significant amenity to a property, it is easy to see how boundary disputes can arise and how they can quickly escalate into legal action. It's perhaps less easy to see how they could be resolved. If there's no definitive evidence, how can you show where the boundary is?
The answer most often boils down to a multi-pronged approach. Often this starts with the legal documentation; a close examination of all of the historical documentation relating to the properties. Unfortunately, that is often insufficient, so it becomes necessary to consider other avenues. Depending on the properties and the history, this can involve inspection of the features on the ground (possibly bringing in an expert surveyor to assist), historical aerial imagery, planning documentation, witness evidence from owners and people familiar with the history of the properties and old photographs the parties may have which happen to show the boundary in question (many such disputes have been settled by photos taken at a BBQ perhaps decades earlier!).
Sometimes, however, it's just not possible to agree between the parties, and at that point the only way of resolution can be to ask a Court or the Land Registry to look over the evidence and for them to make a call on it. If this does become necessary then legal representation can be vital; not only are you getting the benefit of the lawyers’ experience in many such previous cases, the consequences of making a mistake can be extremely serious.
Mr & Mrs S owned a paddock separated from a neighbouring property by only a hedge. In order to keep their horses from eating the hedge and escaping, Mr & Mrs S had a stockproof fence erected around 2 metres from the boundary.
Around twenty years later the old neighbour moved away and his property was sold. Shortly afterwards, Mr and Mrs S returned home to find that the hedge had been removed and a new fence erected immediately against the stockproof fence. They approached the new neighbour who said that the boundary was marked by the fence, and the hedge was therefore theirs to do with as they pleased. When Mr & Mrs S explained that they had put up the stockproof fence themselves, the neighbour said that if they had done that, they had given up ownership of the land anyway, so either way the land in question now belonged to the next-door property.
Mr & Mrs S came to us for help. After we had established the facts, we were quickly able to reassure them that they had not given up the land as their neighbours had stated. We looked over the title documents for the properties, as well as combing back through old transfer deeds and plans. In this instance there were none with reliable measurements, so we turned to historical aerial photographs, as well as making a close examination of the features on the ground. Both revealed evidence that strongly supported Mr & Mrs S's position. We then wrote to their neighbours setting out a clear case why their legal claim to the land was misconceived as well as providing compelling evidence that the boundary had been marked by the hedge, not the fence.
Our letter prompted the neighbours to take legal advice of their own, which encouraged them to quickly make an offer to move the fence they had erected back to where the hedge had been. The dispute had been nipped in the bud so quickly that the neighbours and Mr & Mrs S were even able to agree that line between them. The boundary was restored, and relations between the parties were salvaged.
If you would like to discuss any type of boundary dispute with our specialist dispute resolution solicitors please call 01225 485700 or email email@example.com