Property Dispute Resolution expert, Mike Hansom, examines the main causes of boundary disputes.
Mike is available on 01225 462871. Alternatively, you can email him, or complete the Contact Form at the foot of this page.
Main causes of boundary disputes
Many, though not all, boundary disputes involve a very thin strip of land on one side or another of a disputed boundary line. Care must be taken not to allow emotions to overrule common sense, as the cost of litigating such a matter can swiftly exceed the value of the disputed land.
Often, boundary disputes arise because the exact position of the boundary line is unclear. You should not simply assume that the boundary between your and your neighbour’s properties follows a structure such as a fence or a wall or an organic boundary such as a hedge or tree line. Indeed, there may be no boundary features at all.
If there are boundary features, they may sit entirely on one side of the boundary or straddle it. To complicate matters further, boundaries can evolve over time and disputes may involve a claim for adverse possession.
Land Registry Boundary Determination
If the boundary is disputed, many people will turn first to their Land Registry title plan. But other than the rare exception of a determined boundary, title plans do not establish a property’s legal boundary with any degree of precision. In fact, you may be surprised to hear that there is no legal requirement to record exact boundaries anywhere. Instead, Land Registry plans are based on Ordnance Survey maps and show only “general boundaries”, with the precise boundary line left undetermined. The Land Registry describe a boundary as follows:
“An imaginary or invisible line dividing one person’s property from that of another. It is an exact line having no thickness or width and is rarely identified with any precision either on the ground or in conveyances or transfers and is not shown on Ordnance Survey mapping.”
As this definition suggests, the scale of a Land Registry plan is also problematic. What appears on the plan as the thinnest of lines, probably equates to a line with a width of around a metre when scaled up on the ground. In short, Land Registry plans are usually of little or no use in resolving boundary disputes.
How to resolve property boundary disputes
For ways of resolving a boundary dispute, see our article: Boundary disputes: a practical guide.
Is there a time limit on boundary disputes?
It depends on the circumstances of the case.
If your neighbour has lodged a registration application in respect of the land, possibly as a result of adverse possession (often referred to colloquially as ‘squatter’s rights’), you will find these dedicated articles useful.
If your neighbour has encroached on your land, perhaps by repositioning a boundary feature, ideally, you should attempt to reach a resolution with your neighbour before matters escalate. If the matter cannot be resolved amicably, you may have to consider litigation. More information is available in our article: Boundary disputes: a practical guide.
Can you sell a house with a boundary dispute?
The simple answer is yes, you can sell a house with an ongoing boundary dispute. However, there’s a massive BUT – you must disclose the dispute to your buyer on the Seller’s Property Information Form. If you fail to do so, your buyer could sue you. Of course, the prospect of inheriting a boundary dispute, or indeed any dispute with a neighbour, is very likely to dampen your buyer’s enthusiasm for your property!