Boundary Disputes




Introduction

In one sense any dispute between adjoining landowners over land is a boundary dispute but the term is more usually applied where only a narrow strip of land on the boundary is in dispute. There may be some kind of long established boundary feature such as an earth bank, wall or fence and the dispute may be as to whether the boundary runs down the centre or on one side and, if so, on which side. In some cases there may be more than one boundary feature, for example there may be a wall and a fence running parallel. Or there may be no obvious or clear-cut boundary feature at all.

It is easy to assume that that must be some easy way of finding out where the "official boundary" is. After all, buying and selling land is a formal process involving solicitors and the Land Registry so surely where the boundary is must be clear. Unfortunately it is not so easy. The Land Registry Title Plan for most properties just shows a "general boundary" - i.e. an approximate boundary on a small scale map - sufficient to identify where the property is but not specific enough to settle a boundary dispute of only a few inches or a foot or two. 

There are three main ways of resolving the question of exactly where a boundary is: (1) a boundary agreement, (2) an application to the Land Registry to register a "determined boundary", and (3) making a claim for a declaration in the Business and Property Courts.


Is a boundary agreement possible?

A boundary agreement generally involves less formality than buying and selling land but, even so, you should ask for advice from a qualified lawyer (barrister or solicitor) about the formalities and the advisability of any boundary agreement. This does not necessarily mean that you cannot discuss with your neighbour where in principle (and expressly subject to lawyer's advice) the to-be-agreed boundary might be as, if it is agreed in principle, there is then less for the lawyers to do and therefore less cost.

Often although it may not really matter, in the end, to the parties where the boundary is fixed (and it is in both side's interest that it should be definitely fixed to avoid future disputes and difficulties when a party comes to sell) but because of recent history the parties are not in the mood to agree. Perhaps one neighbour A has taken unilateral action and the other neighbour B, understandably feels that if they do not make a stand that will encourage B to carry on like that in future over other matters. This might be so even though if A had politely asked B before taking action B might have agreed. Sometimes there is a history of friction between neighbours over things such as noise or parking in the road which makes discussion over anything contentious difficult. In these situations sometimes mediation can help with the parties, accompanied by their lawyers, attending a one day mediation conducted by a professional mediator. 

Sometimes it really does matter to the parties where the boundary is. Neighbour A may be seeking planning permission to redevelop their land and they may need the boundary to be agreed in a particular place in order to meet the planning authorities' requirements about density, or the authorities' requirements about width of access if, as is often the case, an existing driveway runs adjacent to the boundary. Neighbour A wants the boundary to be further towards neighbour B but that is the last thing B, who opposes the development plans, is likely to agree to voluntarily.


Application to the Land Registry for a determined boundary or a court claim?

If agreement is not feasible then there are two main ways of having the dispute authoritatively settled:

1. Making an application to the Land Registry - which will then be referred to the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber).

2. Making a court claim.


There are pros and cons of each.

An application to the Land Registry is generally less expensive than court proceedings.

You can only apply to the Land Registry to register a "determined" (exact) boundary if the land is already registered land (registered in the normal way with "general" boundaries) although in appropriate circumstances it might be worth registering the land first just so that you can use that procedure.

A court claim, if pursued to the end, will invariably result in the court deciding exactly where the boundary line is. If the court decides that the boundary is not where the Claimant claims it to be, the court will do the best it can, even if the evidence is somewhat sparce, and declare where the boundary is: the court will not leave the boundary "fuzzy". If the First-tier Tribunal decides that the boundary is not where the Applicant claims it is, it will also attempt to decide exactly where it is but the Tribunal, unlike the court, has the option, if the evidence is sparce, of simply dismissing the Application and leaving the boundary "fuzzy" - i.e. leaving it registered as just a "general" (approximate) boundary. Sometimes the Tribunal may decide the exact position of part of a boundary and leave another part, about which the evidence is less clear, as a "general" boundary.

The Tribunal has no power to grant an injunction - e.g. to prevent trespass. Usually once a boundary has been definitively declared it is respected: it is the uncertainty which causes neighbours to encroach and once an authoritative decision has been made usually there is no further encroachment. If, following a decision by the Tribunal, there is further or continued encroachment then a court claim for an injunction can be made, and a court claim can, in appropriate cases, also be made for damages (compensation) for the encroachment which occurred both before and after the Tribunal's decision. 

However sometimes an urgent injunction is needed before a final decision of the position of the boundary can be made. For example if a neighbour is threatening to demolish a historical wall, a temporary injunction will be necessary to prevent that happening while the process of having the position of the boundary authoritatively decided proceeds. In that case court proceedings would be issued. Once the urgent matter of an interim injunction has been decided the proceedings to decide, finally, the position of the boundary, can then proceed in court or, if the land is registered, it might be appropriate for court proceedings to be stayed (suspended) whilst an application for a determined boundary is made to the Land Registry.                  


Disclaimer

The above explanation of the law is only an overview and in order to be reasonably concise I have had to leave some details out - details which are likely to affect what the law would say about your own situation. So please do not rely on the above but Contact me for advice   

This page was lasted updated in November 2019          Disclaimer