Boundary disputes

Jonathan Warner Reed, director and head of property litigation at Lupton Fawcett Denison Till.
Jonathan Warner Reed, director and head of property litigation at Lupton Fawcett Denison Till.

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Boundary disputes come in all shapes and sizes. It is a commonly held view that they are all too often disproportionately bitter, protracted and expensive.

Residential disputes about the boundaries to people’s homes are much more likely to be emotionally charged with parties less willing to reach an amicable outcome.

How often do boundary disputes arise?

There are no robust figures. Around 160-170 boundary disputes come before the Land Registration Division annually. In the Court system there are no overall figures but the Central London County Court disposes of several dozen boundary disputes each year. Disputes are frequent but many can be resolved informally with sensible legal advice at the outset.

What are the main causes of boundary disputes?

Legal issues that can lead to a boundary dispute include a lack of evidence as to the location of the physical boundary, changes to physical features, the interpretation of title deeds and plans, a lack of accuracy/clarity in the documentation which is available and opportunists trying to claim more land. Non-legal issues include personal disagreements or antipathy between neighbours. Often the initial dispute may be nothing to do with a boundary dispute.

How are boundary disputes resolved?

Boundary disputes may be resolved by informal discussion or negotiation. There are more formal ways such as arbitration, expert determination and application to the Land Registry, but these seem to be little used. Litigation is certain but can be expensive. Mediation is cheaper but it relies on the co-operation of the parties who are not always willing to compromise because of the nature of the dispute.

How to avoid boundary disputes

Establishing the exact position of the boundaries when you move into your house is not high on your list of priorities. Most people leave it to the solicitor to identify any boundary problems during the conveyancing process. However, there are three simple steps you can take to avoid any problems.

You should ask your solicitor for an Official Copy of the Land Registry title plan. This shows the general boundaries of your property. Unfortunately, it is based on large-scale Ordnance Survey mapping so it does not show your legal boundaries.

You should compare this plan to your property, preferably before exchange of contracts. You can ask the seller to clarify any differences.

You should talk to your new neighbours at an early stage to identify the position of, and responsibility for maintaining, the boundaries.

Although the registration of general boundaries is effective for the majority of titles, there are occasions where you might require something more precise.

There are two ways to achieve this: using a boundary agreement; or lodging a determined boundary application.

The first option always requires the agreement of your neighbour and the second would almost invariably require this.

Always take legal advice. The property dispute management team at Lupton Fawcett has a wealth of experience of successfully dealing with boundary disputes.