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Boundary disputes

Image of a frozen boundary fence.

NOTE: This page is for general information - Marshalls do not undertake boundary dispute work, which is a specialist discipline.

Your boundaries are shown on a large scale Ordnance Survey plan held by Land Registry. Each registered title has a title plan. This map shows the physical rather than legal boundaries of the property. The general boundary rule applies in the UK meaning that boundaries indicated on title plans may not be accurately represented on the ground.

The Land Registration Act 2002 allows you to determine and record the exact line of your boundaries on a registered title, so avoiding any future boundary disputes. But what happens, for instance, if a neighbour complains a new wall is overlapping their land, or their new extension takes up part of a pathway between your houses? A minor disagreement can quickly become a full-scale dispute involving solicitors letters and threats of court action. Even more damaging are the costs involved. Ultimately, the cost of protecting your right to that land in court could be well in excess of its value, so it pays to think hard before taking legal action.

What should you do?

Get a specialist to look at all aspects of the problem and advise on whether or not you have a case. Chartered surveyors specialising in boundaries are professional advisors with relevant knowledge of both property issues and the law. They will look at the problem, prepare any technical data that may help solve the dispute at an early stage and, if necessary, provide a court with the appropriate advice and information needed to make a judgement. They will also advise on alternative dispute resolution procedures, which would avoid the need to go to court.

Marking out the exact boundary

Accurately identifying the boundary between two properties often needs specialist knowledge. The red line drawn around a property on the Land Registry plan only shows the general boundary. It does not identify whether the boundary runs along the centre of a hedge or along one side of it. Ordnance Survey maps are equally unreliable because, as part of the mapping process, they do not mark exact property boundaries. So a line surrounding the property is not necessarily the property boundary. A chartered land surveyor will not only survey the land, check deeds and the plans attached to them, but will refer to historical documents and aerial photographs. A boundary can change over time for many reasons: a diverted water course, or a wooden fence that moves slightly every time it is replaced. The reason for such changes is rarely recorded and can lead to disputes, especially if the owner has lost the right to move the boundary line back to its original position.

Dealing with disputes

The key to resolving a dispute speedily and successfully is to employ an expert as soon as possible. Each side can use an independent expert to work out where the boundary lies and write a report. This often resolves the dispute quickly and simply. Before you ask an expert to work on your behalf, check the following: Do they specialise in boundary work? Do they have experience of mapping and land surveys? Are they familiar with the latest civil procedure rules and experienced in preparing reports for court? Do they have experience as an expert witness in court, and if so, how many court appearances have they made in the last year? If you can settle the matter before going to court, or if the court defines a boundary line and writes an order, the chartered land surveyor will mark out your boundary line. They may supervise any fencing or building contractors to make sure there are no further arguments. Ensure they prepare a new plan showing the agreed boundary line for the Land Registry.