Your property could be your most valuable asset. As well as maintaining your buildings and garden it is important to give your boundaries the attention they deserve.
Solicitor and Partner at BLB Solicitors, Mike Hansom, is an expert in avoiding and resolving boundary disputes. In the hope of avoiding problems, he sets out below 6 pointers about your rights and obligations at the extremities of your property:
- The legal boundary is a line of no width, where land belonging to one person meets that belonging to their neighbour. In contrast, a garden fence, wall or hedge has a width, which is sometimes substantial. This feature will either stand astride the legal boundary, or be wholly on land belonging to one or other neighbour.
- The deeds of new build estates will often declare where ownership and responsibility for maintenance of boundary features lies, by use of an inward facing ‘T’ mark on the deed plans. Unfortunately it is common for older deeds to be silent about this, making it more of a challenge to establish who owns or is responsible for repair and maintenance.
- If the Party Wall Act 1996 applies, owners on both sides will have rights to repair, often with the costs being shared. However not every garden boundary wall is a party wall. There may be a declaration to this effect in your deeds, but otherwise you will need to establish whether it stands astride the legal boundary, which often is not possible from a visual inspection.
- Not every fence, wall or hedge marks the boundary. For example a stock proof fence is likely to be set back a metre or more inside the boundary. Or the hedge and ditch presumption might apply: this assumes a land owner digs a ditch along their boundary line, creating a raised bank of spoil behind the ditch, on top of which they plant the hedge. Not only is the hedge entirely on this landowner’s land, they also own the ditch beyond it. Please note this presumption only applies in certain circumstances.
- If you are replacing a boundary fence it is advisable to firstly discuss your plans with your neighbour, especially if you are not sure on whose land it sits. Before starting work you should also take measurements and photographs as evidence to demonstrate the new fence has been placed in the same position.
- Where you are uncertain about the precise position of the legal boundary an informal, verbal agreement over its position reached with your neighbour is likely to be binding. It is preferable for all agreements to be documented in writing, including a plan. You will also need to disclose the existence of the agreement when you come to sell your property, even verbal agreements.