Boundary Disputes: Richard’s 5 Self-Help Tips

Over the past four months the number of enquires and ‘free thirty minute advice’ referrals via the RICS (and more recently Ordnance Survey), has tripled from two to six per month.

The source of these disputes have been between neighbours of private residencies in inner city locations (predominantly London). The majority of these neighbours have been living next to one another for a number of years and until the dispute arose, were respectful and even friendly towards one another.

Effects of the Pandemic

The circumstances relating to the pandemic seems to be a contributing factor to the increased reporting of disputes. It appears that the stress of lockdown, social isolation, and the perceived lack of freedom is the root cause of people re-directing their time, energy and attention to minor issues such as a disputed boundary position.

Such negligible disputes can be exceptionally hard to determine due to the negligible dimensions being disputed, and are time consuming for a professional to resolve.

The Surveyor’s Role

As an advocate of the RICS, an RICS Registered Expert Witness and Boundary Dispute expert, I will always provide a listening ear to any enquirers and sift through the information in order to ascertain the facts of the dispute. It is only then that I am able to provide the guidance that is needed in order for people to resolve the matter, where possible, themselves.

A Recent Case Study

One of the more recent ‘free advice’ discussions I have had involved two neighbours of ten years who were, up until this point, great friends. One neighbour had decided to renew the wearing layer to their drive and enlarge it to accommodate two vehicles. An alleged throw away comment made by one of the tendering contractors suggesting that if the owner extended their driveway by six inches towards the neighbouring property they would be able to “move their cars more easily on and off the drive”, led to the neighbour taking it upon themselves to move the boundary. In addition they had ‘remembered’ that the original boundary was moved by the former owner of the adjoining property. This seemingly insignificant six inches (150mm) has now rendered the two neighbours’ friendship a thing of the past with open hostility becoming a daily event.

You can divide the guidance and explanation I have given during the vast majority of these enquires into 5 simple tips:

1. Refer to the Title Plan.

The Title Plan, also referred as the ‘Red Line Plan’, records the extent of the demise, the land, and gardens, associated with the property. The extent of the demise is shown outlined in red hence the alternative name of the Red Line plan. This red line shows the legal boundary associated with the property and it is this plan that should be referred to determine the legal boundary position.

2. Check the Scale of the Title Plan.

The scale that the Title Plan is produced at is as important as where the red line is shown. The Title plans are predominantly produced at 1/1250 or 1/2500 scale. In layman terms, this means that for every metre measured physically on the ground, the plans are produced 1,250 or 2,500 times smaller on the Title Plan.

Immediately, you can appreciate that determining the previously mentioned 150mm from a plan that has been produced at either 1,250 or 2,500 smaller than the actual dimension on site is impossible to achieve.

Restablishing the legal boundary from these plans presents its own challenges, with accuracy varying between 500mm (20 inches) and 1,500mm (1.5 meters or 59 inches).

Therefore, if the dimensions that are being challenged are less than 500mm (20 inches), then it may well be impossible to confirm tolerances smaller than this dimension.

3. Understand Physical and Legal Boundaries.

The physical and legal boundaries are often confused with people believing that where there is a physical boundary, such as a fence, this confirms the legal boundary. This may not be the case!

The legal boundary is an imaginary or invisible line dividing one person’s property from that of another. The legal boundary has no thickness or width, is rarely identified with any precision either on the ground or on plans, and is not shown on Ordnance Survey mapping.

A physical boundary, such as a fence, or a wall or hedge, may coincidentally follow the line of a legal boundary. However, the physical boundary can sit directly upon or either side of the legal boundary.

4. Determine Ownership.

One of the most frequent questions asked of me, is how can we determine ownership of the boundary?

With modern Title Plans, ownership can be identified by the presence of a ‘T’ mark at right angles to the boundary. If the ‘T’ mark is within the demise of a particular property, then ownership and maintenance of the boundary falls to that property.

For older properties that have an absence of a ‘T’ mark, identification of ownership is harder. In this instance, reviewing the original Deeds for the property is recommended as the information contained within this document may well confirm the ownership and maintenance obligations of each boundary encompassing the property.

Properties that are built during different time periods, for instance a single dwelling that has been constructed followed by dwellings that have been built adjacent to this property years later, it can be presumed that the ownership and maintenance obligations for the boundaries encompassing the first dwelling are the responsibility of the owners of this property. Each boundary built off of it, then becomes the ownership of the properties these boundaries enclose.

For properties that form a terrace or semi-detached dwellings, along a typical residential street that were all constructed during the same period and with the absence of the previously mentioned ‘T’ marks or legal description of possession, any ownership is far harder to establish. In these instances, it is easier to accept the boundaries are equally maintained between the adjoining properties and that any repair works is shared alike between neighbours.

5. Taking the Mindful Approach.

As mentioned previously, boundary disputes can be emotive and cause a break-down in the otherwise amicable and peaceful existence between neighbours.

If a disagreement does occur with a neighbour regarding the ownership, maintenance, or position of a boundary, be aware of any emotional reactions. It is better to approach the issue logically and practically by assessing each aspect as detailed above, and then communicating this rationally.

If an agreement cannot be achieved, it is then that you should seek the support of both well-established and experienced conveyancers and boundary surveyors who have an established history of undertaking land surveys.

If you have any other concerns not listed here, or think you have a dispute to investigate, call Richard on 07753 456405 or email him at richard.crow@tridentbc.com.

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