How To: Boundary Disputes

How To: Boundary Disputes

Most properties have defined boundaries. They might be fences, walls, hedges, edging stones, sides of buildings or even roads and rivers.

It is important to maintain these boundaries and ensure they don’t fall into disrepair. If some or all your boundaries are not clearly defined it is important to ensure that you and your neighbour understand and agree where the boundary is. It may well save problems in the future if you take steps to erect an appropriate boundary feature.

You should discuss it with your neighbour before starting any work. Never erect a boundary without your neighbours’ knowledge or while they are away.

Changes to your boundaries

This is particularly common where a hedge is replaced with a fence. Always remember that a hedge is a general boundary and the only way to decide where a replacement fence should be positioned is by agreement between the neighbouring homeowners.

Never make any changes to your boundary structures without talking to your neighbour.

Many boundary disputes arise from a homeowner trying to build right up to a boundary. Consult your neighbour before you apply for Planning Permission. Even if they cannot agree to your proposals do try to ensure that you both agree where the boundary is and ensure that your works stay on your own land. The planning authority will not concern itself as to whether you own the land – that is your responsibility.

What happens if a boundary disagreement arises?

A minor disagreement can quickly become a full-scale dispute involving solicitors’ letters and threats of court action. Ultimately, the cost of protecting your right to land in court could be prohibitive so it pays to think hard before rushing into legal action.

The key to resolving a dispute speedily and successfully is to seek expert advice as soon as possible. In the first instance, this advice can be from either a chartered land surveyor or a chartered surveyor specialising in boundary disputes. Before you ask an expert to work on your behalf, check the following:

  • do they specialise in boundary work?
  • do they have experience of mapping and land surveys?
  • are they skilled at interpreting aerial photographs?
  • are they familiar with the latest civil procedure rules and experienced in preparing reports for court?
  • do they have experience as an expert witness in court and, if so, how many court appearances have they made in the last year?

A chartered land surveyor will not only survey the land, check deeds and the plans attached to them, but will refer to historical documents and aerial photographs. The red line on the Land Registry title plan only shows the general boundary and does not define the exact legal boundary. A boundary can change over time for any reason. These changes are rarely recorded and can lead to disputes.

If you can settle the matter before going to court, or if the court defines a boundary line and writes an order, the chartered land surveyor will mark out your boundary line. They may supervise any fencing or building contractors to make sure there are no further arguments. Ensure they prepare a new plan, to the required specification, showing the agreed boundary line for submission to the Land Registry as a Boundary Agreement. 

The RICS Helpline Scheme provides you with access to impartial, expert advice from certified members about Boundary Disputes and the firms will be happy to offer you a free consultation about your specific issue.