How to Deal With a Boundary Dispute
Most people assume that the boundary of their land or property ends at their fence, hedge or wall, but this is not necessarily the case. Boundaries are invisible and, to some extent, imaginary.
Fences, hedges and walls may move over the years, which can make the boundary line hard to pinpoint. And for an invisible line, boundary disputes seem to ignite a special kind of rage and frustration in neighbours that can perhaps only be rivalled by other types of neighbour disputes, such as disputes over parking spaces or excessive noise.
But it is understandable that boundary disputes tend to cause so much ire. Where your boundary falls can have a significant impact on your enjoyment of land. It can affect access to your property, it can define how big your plot is, whether you can extend, and it can establish the ownership and maintenance responsibility of features such as trees and outbuildings.
If a dispute arises about the location of a boundary or ownership of a boundary marker, it can be very difficult to resolve, particularly if things become tense or heated. It typically requires cooperation and negotiation between the parties, together with the assistance of professionals such as a solicitor specialising in boundary disputes and a surveyor.
The problem with locating property boundaries
As mentioned, physical markers of property boundaries, such as fences, walls and hedges, may not accurately represent where the boundary actually sits.
If the property is registered, you can get a better idea of the boundaries by requesting a copy of the title plan from the Land Registry. However, title plans do not show exact boundaries. They show general boundaries and usually cannot be relied upon to definitively resolve disputes.
In many cases in England and Wales, there is no precise and up-to-date record of where the boundary lines sit or who owns any boundary markers between properties.
How to deal with a boundary dispute
Boundary Disputes Protocol
For civil disputes, there are mandatory protocols that set out how the parties should approach resolution. These are called the Pre-Action Protocols.
Boundary disputes do not have a specific Pre-Action Protocol, which can make approaching these issues trickier. So, industry experts have developed a protocol of best practice to help neighbours in disputes about the location of property boundaries.
The Boundary Disputes Protocol focuses on early resolution to help parties avoid disputes escalating and ending up in court, which can be expensive and stressful for everyone involved.
It is a good idea for parties who need to deal with a boundary dispute to familiarise themselves with the Protocol and follow its principles, including:
- Exchanging information (such as property title deeds) as soon as possible
- Appointing professional advisors to assist with any complex legal issues, such as adverse possession claims
- Identifying the ‘First Conveyance’ (when the parties’ properties first passed into separate ownership) and appointing a surveyor
- Using alternative dispute resolution methods, such as arbitration or adjudication, to resolve any disputes
- Applying to a court or tribunal to resolve the dispute as a last resort where appropriate
Appointing a surveyor
An expert surveyor can be invaluable in helping neighbours survey the land and examine relevant documents (such as historic title deeds) to locate the boundaries. The surveyor can then provide their evidence and expert evaluation for the parties to consider during negotiations. They can also act as an expert witness if the matter needs to go to court or tribunal.
Making a Boundary Agreement
A Boundary Agreement is a legal document that neighbours can make to determine their agreement about where the property boundaries fall and who is responsible for maintaining hedges, walls, trees or fences between the properties.
Boundary agreements can be registered at the Land Registry to create a permanent record of the agreement.
Even if a boundary can be established, you should be aware of any risks of an adverse possession claim. Adverse possession can allow a ‘squatter’ to take ownership of land if they have had exclusive possession for at least 10 years (in the case of registered land) or 12 years (in the case of unregistered land).
Adverse possession claims can be very complex and, if successful, have the significant consequence of land ownership being transferred. So, if you are aware of any potential adverse possession issues on your land, seek legal advice as soon as possible.
If informal negotiation and alternative dispute resolution is ultimately unsuccessful, your final option will be to ask the courts to make a decision about the boundary lines and resolve any adverse possession issues. Relief for a successful court claim could include:
- A declaration on the location of the boundaries
- An injunction to prevent your neighbour from trespassing or continuing any nuisance
- Damages to compensate for any losses
- Payment of your legal costs
Speak to our Property Litigation team for expert advice about boundary disputes
To discuss your options for resolving a boundary dispute with your neighbour or any other residential property matter, get in touch with our Property Litigation team.
Please note the contents of this article are given for information only and must not be relied upon. Legal advice should always be sought in relation to specific circumstances.