The current climate of new home building being actively promoted by Government and the rush for Developers to meet these demands means that sometimes risks are taken resulting in boundary disputes. This usually happens when boundaries shown on Land Registry plans are taken at face value and the red line for a planning application and layout of a development site are mapped according to the Land Registry plan. However, the position on the ground may differ and a situation can arise whereby once development has begun a neighbouring landowner disputes the boundary claiming for example that the true boundary follows a hedgerow planted years before. The impact for a Developer of losing a boundary dispute can be significant causing delays and loss of profit. For the neighbouring landowner, the process can be both stressful and take a long time to resolve.
The “general boundaries” rule applied by the Land Registry provides that the red line shown on their plans is not definitive and gives only a general indication of the legal boundary. It is also worth noting that a 1mm line shown on a Land Registry plan, drawn to a scale of 1:1250 translates to 1.25m on the ground.
The starting point for ascertaining exact boundaries is the original title deeds (pre-registration documents) which require careful examination of any descriptions given in those deeds and any plans contained. A chartered land surveyor may need to carry out measurements and study features on the old plans. If the old title deeds are unclear than a Court would look at extrinsic evidence, such as topographical features, i.e. old fence posts, tree lines etc.
The case of Norman and another v Sparling in 2014 involved two landowners and the positioning of the boundary between a cottage and a farm. The issue was whether the boundary was at the top or the bottom of a hedge bank constructed between the two properties. The title plans had unclear measurements and were of very small scale leaving the Court to consider the position on the ground. Either option was possible as the measurements were both within the tolerances permitted by the descriptions in the deeds. However, it was shown that the original owner of one of the properties (who had originally constructed the bank) had at a later date inserted posts along the top, so the court decided the true boundary was at the top of the bank emphasising that any boundary features on the ground will be taken into account.
It is therefore vital that old title deeds are retained and any inconsistencies or possible anomalies between plans and physical features on the ground are identified and noted and any evidence in support of the true position retained. It is recommended that landowners carry out regular inspections of their boundaries to identify any possible encroachments, hopefully before any building works have commenced on neighbouring land, to aid the swift resolution of any disputes.
Property Team – ELS