What is a boundary dispute?
A boundary dispute is a dispute that arises between owners or occupiers of neighbouring properties. Sometimes, but not always a boundary dispute will arise when one party constructs a fence, wall or building in a position which highlights that the two neighbours have different views as to where the boundary lies.
How to win a boundary dispute?
The danger with a boundary dispute is that unless the area of land has very substantial value, the costs incurred can very quickly become disproportionate to the value of the land in dispute.
So to “win” a boundary dispute you need to find an acceptable resolution to it before costs start to spiral. That may require compromise on both sides.
How to resolve a boundary dispute?
Arguments between neighbours are common when boundary disputes arise, and in our experience, the longer a case goes on, the more entrenched each side gets and the more and more acrimonious a case can become. It is important to communicate with the other side calmly and discuss the issue amicably, at an early stage if possible, and avoid the dispute becoming personal.
Boundaries can be unclear, and so misunderstandings do happen. Trying to avoid blame in the early stages can be helpful in finding an acceptable solution.
How to determine a boundary line?
Understandably, most people look first at land registry title plans (if, as in most cases, the land is registered). However, the land registry plan does not normally determine exactly where the boundary lies. Instead, you need to look at the pre-registration deeds for both properties.
Both you and your neighbour should examine both sets of deeds and you should share them with each other. What you are looking for is a transfer of each piece of land or even better, if it’s available, the document which actually created the boundary and divided the two pieces of land. These documents can be of varying quality. Sometimes they contain a very well-drawn plan and detailed description but often this isn’t the case.
You also need to bear in mind that boundaries can change by one owner or the other adversely possessing land, by occupying to the exclusion of all others for a period of 10 years in the case of registered land. It is worth noting though, that since 2003 it has been more difficult for people to acquire land by adverse possession. If you think adverse possession may be relevant, further information can be found on the land registry website, or this question may be something you need to seek legal advice on.
Boundaries can also be changed by a boundary agreement between previous owners. If the boundary line cannot be agreed on the basis of what you can see in the deeds, you and your neighbour may want to consider agreeing to jointly appoint a chartered land surveyor. They can attend the site and determine where the true boundary line lies on the basis of the deeds and the site features. You could also agree to abide by their decision (whatever it is).
Buying a house
If you are buying a house and are concerned about a potential or ongoing boundary dispute, it is a good idea to check the boundary features to see if you can spot anything unusual. Indications of past, present or future disputes could be some of the following examples:
- neighbouring structures overhanging a fence line
- an otherwise straight fence line having a dog-leg in it
- fences and boundaries being in an unexpected or unusual position.
You should ask your conveyancing solicitor to look carefully at what is included and not included in the title deeds.
You may also wish to speak to the neighbours of the property and should carefully review what the seller says in the Property Information Form. There is no positive duty for the seller to disclose information regarding a dispute, unless a specific question is asked.
A standard question appears on the standard Property Information Form about ongoing neighbour disputes, but additional questions can and should be asked by the buyer if there is reason to think there may be an ongoing or historic issue.
Selling a house
If you are selling a house, you are required to fill in a standard Property Information Form. This includes a question about whether there is any ongoing neighbour dispute. You are not required to give an answer but if you do not, it may raise questions from the potential buyer who may then draw inferences from silence.
If giving a definitive answer, you must be truthful as if it transpires that you have given incorrect information or withheld something relevant, you may be liable for misrepresentation.
How much does a boundary dispute cost?
It is very difficult to say, but it can be a considerable amount. The analogy of the length of a piece of string may seem trite but it is an appropriate allusion. This is especially true if the dispute makes its way to the Land Tribunal, or to the Court, for a determination hearing.
If a case proceeds, some or all of the way to trial, legal costs can easily run into the tens of thousands of pounds on each side.
This is why our approach is to consider all sensible and pragmatic ways of resolving a dispute, at an early stage, via all means of alternative dispute resolution so that court proceedings really are a last resort.