When property lines are drawn but someone crosses them, what do you do? Encroaching on someone else’s property – even by a centimetre or two – can cause (and often does) some of the biggest property disputes. Even in the most simplistic scenario where the boundary is established, inconsiderate actions can still incite acrimony. And where the boundary itself is disputed, how do you go about finding a reasonable resolution?
Areas of dispute
There are any number of scenarios that may be the catalyst for a boundary dispute. Most likely these will relate to one of these categories:
- Party walls. A wall within a building that joins two properties and forms the boundary between them.
- Boundary walls. A wall within a garden, built to separate two pieces of land.
- Rights of Way
Fences, walls or hedges can also be defined as boundary features; a structure that separates your property from your neighbour’s. Interestingly – and despite common misconception – there are no laws about ownership or which side of the boundary feature an owner is responsible for.
What to do
So, if you find yourself in the midst of a disagreement about a boundary, what can you do to settle it? The simplest start point for resolution is discussion. If all parties can come to an agreement about the boundary, this will undoubtedly cause less stress, anxiety and potentially loss of time and money. If that is not possible then you will need to determine if a legal boundary is established. This in itself, is not simple.
There are several documents relating to your property that may help with establishing if a legal boundary exists. These documents will also become crucial, should a third party – be it independent or court appointed – become involved in the dispute:
- Title Register and Title Plan
- Any deeds or plans referred to on the register
- Original Estate Agents’ sales particulars
- Planning drawings
- Ordnance Survey maps
- Aerial photographs
- Your own photographs
You can obtain a copy of both your neighbour’s and your own title register, title plan and/or any deeds the Land Registry have on file, in order to check if they contain any information about boundaries. However, it is important to understand that Land Registry CANNOT tell you exactly where your legal boundary is. Their title plans only show general boundaries and do not define property boundaries. The Land Registry state that: “Title Plans, whilst being as accurate as possible, are not intended as a guarantee of the measurements of the property, and registration cannot help to resolve boundary disputes. The purpose of the title plan is limited to identifying the position of the property in relation to the features on the Ordnance Survey map.”
In reviewing these documents, you are trying to ascertain if there are any existing boundary agreements for your property. If there are not, you and your neighbours can decide where the boundaries between your properties are, by making a boundary agreement. You can then apply to have your boundary agreement added to the title plan of both your properties, via the government website: HM Land Registry Change (AP1). However that requires the mutual agreement and cooperation of all parties.
Third Party Intervention
If you are already in the middle of an ongoing boundary dispute, then chances are that this will not be a viable option. Approaching a dispute in a manner that is conducive to finding an outcome to appease both parties, is not easy. Emotions can run high, especially if the dispute has been ongoing over a long period of time. Often the cause of heated debates and arguments between neighbours, property boundaries raise a lot of questions. Answers for which can be very hard to find. If you have already tried and failed to reasonably resolve your boundary dispute, then the intervention of an independent third party via an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) may be the next step.