Home > Information > Boundaries & Disputes

Information on Boundaries and Disputes

The boundary between two properties or plots of land is one of the most common causes of neighbourly disputes? Where does the boundary line lie? Who is responsible for maintaining what part of the boundary? The position on the ground does not always reflect the actual legal position in the title deeds and then again, the deeds will not always answer the questions!

Boundary disputes can become very long, complex and bitter and, if solicitors are involved, expensive. It is not uncommon for warring neighbours to spend tens of thousands of pounds in legal fees in an argument over a piece of land which is practically worthless. It is a good idea therefore to try to resolve disputes amicably. There are a few things that need to be considered when trying to resolve questions involving boundaries.

The Land Registry Title Plan

For registered land, the title plan (or filed plan) shows the position of the boundary, however contrary to popular belief this is only an approximation. The Land Registry does not determine the exact boundary line when registering the title and the title plan cannot therefore be used as definitive evidence in a boundary dispute.

Application to Land Registry to Determine the Boundary (form DB)

An application can be made to the Land Registry in form DB to determine the exact line of the boundary and this is often a good place to start to resolve a dispute over the position of the boundary. They will look at old title deeds and physical features as well as historical images (photographs for example) to try to establish the true legal boundary.

The Land registry will only determine the boundary if there is sufficient evidence to confirm its location. They will not adjudicate where there is serious doubt. Before making an application therefore it is a good idea for both neighbours to collect as much evidence as possible in the form of documents, old photographs and perhaps witness statements.

The Title Deeds

At some point in the past all plots of land will have been part of a larger estate and so there will have been a transfer of part, which split the plot off from the main estate. It is this document (called either a transfer or conveyance) which is most useful in deciding where the true boundary lies and also who is responsible for maintaining boundaries.

Responsibility for maintenance is usually indicated by a “T” on the plan to the transfer/conveyance. Whichever side of the boundary the “T” is on, that person is responsible for maintaining the boundary. Sometimes there will be no “T” marks, in which case it is assumed that responsibility for the boundary is joint. Sometimes the deeds will specifically confirm this.

In terms of determining the exact position of the boundary, again, the plan is not definitive unless the deed says that it is. The deed will usually however contain a description of the extent of the land and it is this that is to be relied upon. For example you might see something like “the plot of land being 100ft by 75ft and bounded to the West by New Road and to the North by Old Road”. A description like this is of course only conclusive if you can pinpoint the boundaries of New Road and Old Road.

Adverse Possession

One way in which boundaries can shift over the course of time is via adverse possession. Adverse possession is where a person treats another’s land as if it was his own and assumes possession of it. This happens often with neighbours where a boundary fence will be erected on the neighbour’s land so that physically, a strip of the neighbour’s garden is incorporated into his own.

The doctrine of adverse possession means that, subject to other considerations, the neighbour who has put the fence in the wrong place (the “adverse possessor”) becomes the owner of the land provided a period of 12 years elapses without an objection being raised, even if an objection is subsequently (after 12 years) raise.

The Hedge and Ditch Presumption and Other Physical Evidence

The “hedge and ditch presumption” is a rule of law which can be used to resolve boundary disputes where the legal title is inconclusive. It arose out of a case involving a dispute between the owners of two neighbouring fields. The approximate position of the boundary was known and in this area was a ditch and next to it, a hedge. The Court reasoned that the neighbour who dug the ditch and planted the hedge must own the land which they occupied. It reasoned that a person could not injure a neighbour’s land (by digging the ditch) without committing a trespass. It went on to say that he must also have place the removed dirt on his own land and that it was reasonable that the hedge was planted in that dirt. It made sense that the hedge would be planted on the boundary line (in front of the ditch rather than behind) therefore the boundary must lie on the far side of the hedge.

This is just an example of the logical approach used where the title deeds do not resolve a boundary dispute. If therefore two pieces of land are separated by a fence which has stood for many years, it is likely this would be ruled to be the boundary unless it was clear from the deeds that this could not be the case. /after all, why would a person put up a fence in the middle of his garden?

2011 - 2015 © Land Registry Documents All rights received