What is a Land Boundary and why is it important?
A Land Boundary marks the edges of a person's property and so defines the limits of the area of land that they own.
Boundaries are important as they determine the ownership of land. There are no separate laws that determine who is responsible for anything on the land such as passageways, trees, hedges or fences; whoever owns the land will be responsible. So if the boundary line is disputed, it is important to determine who is responsible; if these responsibilities are not properly carried out, the non-compliant party may be liable for any damages caused by their breach.
Where might a boundary dispute be a problem?
Consider the following scenarios:
A path between two properties
A passageway between a public house and a shop is commonly used by members of the public going to and from local shops. Both businesses consider that the other is responsible for maintaining the passageway. As a result, neither has maintained it.
Following a wet summer, there was a build up of algae in the passageway. This made the passageway slippy. Whilst out shopping, Mrs Smith slipped on the algae and fell, breaking her hip. Upon consulting Land Registry Plans, it becomes apparent that the passageway is part of the land owned by the shop. The shop owner is therefore liable for Mrs Smith’s fall and will have to settle her personal injury claim.
A tree on a property boundary
A large tree grew at the boundary between three residential houses. During a particularly bad storm 3 months ago, the tree was hit by lightening which split the trunk. One half was left swaying precariously. However as the neighbours did not know who was responsible for dealing with it, it was ignored.
On a particularly windy day, part of the trunk fell through the roof of Mr Turner’s house, causing around £100,000 of damage. Upon consulting the Title Plans, it became apparent that Mr Jennings owned the land upon which the tree was growing, and so it was his responsibility to have it cut down when it become dangerous. Mr Jennings (and his insurers) therefore had to pay to repair Mr Turner’s garage.
How do I find a Land Boundary?
Information on land boundaries can be found by looking at Land Registry Title Plans. You can obtain more information here. The boundary outline is marked in red on title plans.
The outlines of any buildings are marked in black. However, these will only be buildings that were built at the time of the original registration. Any additions added later such as outhouses or conservatories will not usually be marked.
Whilst the boundaries will be illustrated on the plan, ‘responsibility’ is not always shown. If responsibility has been previously determined, however, it is marked by the letter T on a boundary. The party that owns the land at the top, flat side of the ‘T’ will be responsible for the boundary.
The Title Plan will come with a description of any other shaded areas. For example the above green shaded area shows a land charge (a mortgage), over that residential building.
Note: An online copy is great for general information. However, if you wish to rely on the Title Plan as proof of ownership (such as in a court case), you will need a formal hard copy, known as an “Official Copy Title Plan”. To apply for an Official Copy, you will need to fill in form OC1 and send it, along with your fee (£7) to: Citizen Centre, Land Registry Wales Office, T? Cwm Tawe, Phoenix Way, Llansamlet, Swansea, SA7 9FQ. The Plan should arrive by post within a week.
- Online Copy Title Plan – £3
- Official Copy Title Plan – £7
How to fix an exact boundary
Title Plans only provide a rough guide as to boundaries. Sometimes a more accurate boundary placement needs to be known. For example a Title Plan may show that a boundary follows the line of a fence, but not in enough detail to determine who is responsible for maintenance of that fence.
If you wish to fix an exact boundary, you need to:
- Try to agree any unclear areas with your neighbours and all sign an agreement to that effect
- Ask a surveyor to draw up a detailed plan
- Send both the signed agreement and detailed plan to the Land Registry, along with a completed application (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/exact-line-of-boundary-registration-db), and your application fee (£90)
What if you cannot agree?
If you can’t agree exact boundaries with your neighbours, you can have the dispute settled by an Independent Adjudicator to HM Land Registry. You should take legal advice if you are pursuing this option. First however, consider why you need to determine the boundary. This is a fairly costly option and it may actually be cheaper for example, to simply repair the fence (or remove a tree etc) than spend money determining whose responsibility it is to do so!
Where one party wants to sell their property and the other will not unless they are sure that all boundaries have been fixed, this is an option.
For more information visit www.gov.uk/fixing-the-boundary
If you cannot agree with your neighbours how to resolve boundary disputes such as over a tree, consider mediation . Mediation is where an unbiased third party such as a solicitor, mediator or other qualified professional helps people to communicate and reach a suitable and acceptable agreement between them. Mediation can be informal or formal but either way it can help to resolve disputes without recourse to formal legal proceedings. You might find that developing constructive relationships with neighbours over time will mean you can resolve problems together more easily, without recourse to legal action. What is the average height of a fence is often a question we get asked.
Title Plans are an excellent way to determine responsibility for the maintenance of boundaries. They are usually sufficient for property boundary disputes (with neighbours) that do not result in court action. However, if you need more exact details or a formal declaration from the Land Registry, then you will need to make applications to them directly.
The above is only general advice and you should take it as such. It does not constitute formal advice nor this article.