Property Dispute Resolution expert, Mike Hansom, is an expert in avoiding and resolving boundary disputes. Below, he sets out some key facts about your rights and obligations at the extremities of your property.
Mike team are available on 01225 462871. Alternatively, you can email them, or complete the Contact Form at the foot of this page.
Your property is almost certainly your most valuable asset. As such, in addition to maintaining your buildings and garden, it’s important to give your boundaries the attention they deserve. This begins with understanding a little more about legal boundaries.
What is a boundary?
A 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. Such a boundary feature will either stand astride the legal boundary or sit wholly on land belonging to one or other neighbour. To complicate matters further:
- there may be no boundary features at all.
- there is no legal requirement to record the position of a boundary anywhere.
- boundaries are not necessarily fixed; they can and do move over time.
- Land Registry plans are of little or no use in determining the exact position of a boundary.
‘T’ marks and ‘H’ Marks
It’s a common misconception that if a T-mark on the title plan is inward-facing to your property, you ‘own’ that boundary feature. However, the Court of Appeal has made it clear that a ‘T’ mark does not mean (or indicate) ownership. Rather, it usually means you are responsible for the repair of that boundary feature.
An ’H’ mark indicates shared responsibility for repair with your neighbour.
Unfortunately, older deeds tend to be silent on this issue, which means it can be more of a challenge to determine who is responsible for repair and maintenance.
Party Wall Act 1996
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 a boundary
You should not automatically assume that man-made or organic features mark a 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 landowner 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, but they also own the ditch beyond it. Please note, however, that this presumption only applies in certain circumstances.
Communication is key
If you are replacing a boundary fence it is first advisable to discuss your plans with your neighbour, especially if you are not sure on whose land it sits. So many boundary disputes are the result of poor communication.
Before starting work you should also take measurements and photographs as evidence to demonstrate the new fence has been placed in the same position. Be aware that 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.