Boundary Disputes

A boundary is a line that divides two adjoining pieces of land. It may be physically defined by a natural feature such as a river or an artificial feature such as a wall. The boundary may be identified in the legal documents of title but the physical boundary may not exactly follow the same line as the legal boundary.

If you are uncertain where your boundary lies and you have a dispute about it with your neighbour, there are various steps to follow.

Check the Deeds

The first place to establish the boundary line is the title deeds to your property.  The document that transferred ownership into your name should describe the property with sufficient clarity to confirm the boundaries.

If your property is registered at the Land Registry, it may help to look at the title plan they have – this is a map of your property and where the boundary is. 

Unfortunately, the title deeds and Land Registry records are not always clear as they usually show general boundaries rather than the exact boundary line.  The law sets out a few rules to help us interpret them. 

• There is usually a description clause.  If this is clear but contains a minor error, for example the wrong name or locality, it can be disregarded.

• If the plan is described as being ‘for identification purposes only’, the description is considered more important.

• If the description of the property says it is ‘more particularly delineated or described on the plan’, then plan is the most important document.

• If the documents describe the plan as being ‘for identification purposes only’ and describes the property as being ‘more particularly delineated on the plan’, the two phrases effectively cancel each other out so that neither one is more important than the other.

• Where a plan is taken from an Ordnance Survey map, the boundary feature (for example, a hedge, fence or wall) marked is taken to mark the centre line of the boundary feature.

• Some plans have ‘T’ marks which establishes ownership of the boundary when it is on the land owning the boundary feature. 

If the position of a property boundary line is clear from the title deeds, other evidence will not be considered by the Court.  However, in some cases the title cannot be determined from the title deeds, for example if there is a conflicting description, or if the title plan is unclear. In such cases the court will look at other evidence to decide the position of the boundary line.


Other Evidence

This may include: - 

• physical evidence and features on site;

• information from other title deeds relating to the properties;

• particulars of sale at an auction and possibly sales particulars from an estate agent;

• documentation during the purchase process; 

• statutory declarations;

• maps;

• photographs;

• planning permission. 

This area of law can be complex so you should consider early on whether it would be appropriate to instruct an expert surveyor to visit the site, consider the evidence and prepare an expert report setting out a professional opinion as to whereabouts of the boundary line. 

Legal Presumptions on Boundaries

There are a few assumptions that have accrued over the years of dealing with these disputes in court.  They will be used where nothing else can resolve the dispute.  

Roadways - It is presumed that the boundary of land abutting a roadway or private right of way extends to the middle line. 

Hedges and ditches - Where two properties are divided by a hedge and a ditch or a bank and ditch, there is a presumption that the boundary is along the opposite edge of the ditch from the hedge or bank. 

Non-tidal rivers and streams - Where a property abuts a natural non-tidal river or stream, the boundary of the property extends to the centre line of the river. If the course of the river changes naturally over time, the property boundary is also presumed to change with the river. 

Land Registry Investigation

As the exact line of the legal boundary is usually unclear, almost all Land Registry title plans are prepared under what is referred to as the ‘general boundaries rule’ which means that the exact line of the boundary of a property is not determined by the Land Registry. An owner of registered land may apply to the Land Registry to determine the exact line of the boundary.  This application involves a thorough examination of the applicant’s property and of all the adjoining landowners, together with a detailed survey.  After the examination has taken place, the detailed particulars are added to the Land Registry plan, which is then deemed to show the accurate fixed boundaries.

Agreeing with Your Neighbour

The parties may enter into an informal boundary agreement which does not need to be in writing as the intention is to define an unclear boundary rather than a transfer of land.  Therefore, boundary agreements are often spoken but can also be taken from the parties’ conduct. 

Adverse Possession

Where a person occupies land without permission from the owner they can establish ownership of it as long as there was a reasonable belief that the land belonged to them and there has been no objection to the occupation for a period of 10 years.

Alternative Dispute Resolution 

The court will not consider any application until and unless the parties have attempted to resolve the dispute some other way, such as in mediation.  {link to alternatives to court}.  Boundary disputes are complex which means legal advice and assistance can be expensive.  It makes sense to try for a settlement before any court involvement. 

The Boundary Dispute Protocol sets out what you should do to satisfy the court that you have tried to resolve matters by agreement.  

It has three main aims:

• To ensure that neighbours exchange sufficient information in a timely manner to minimise the scope for disputes.

• To enable any such disputes to be readily resolved, including by alternative dispute resolution.

• To keep costs to a minimum.