Finding Property Boundaries
Published: 05-06-2018 | Updated: 28-08-2018
There are two ways to find your property boundaries, resulting from two different definitions of boundary, each of which are valid. These are the legal and the physical boundaries. In this article we explain the difference between the two. In short, the legal boundary is a hypothetical line on a map, between 2 properties. A physical boundary is determined by examining the site, not on paper, but on the land. The two definitions of boundary often produce different results. This article describes both in detail.
Legal and Physical Boundaries
A property's boundaries fall into 2 categories. There is a legal boundary and a physical boundary. Although in principle they should be the same, they often are not.
A legal boundary is created by an authorised person drawing a hypothetical line on a map between adjoining properties. When created by the Land Registry the legal boundary line is fairly precise but this often falls down when it comes to comparing the line with physical features in the grounds of the property. The smaller the scale of the map and the thicker the drawing implement used to create the line, the more inaccurate the boundary line becomes.
Land Registry Title Plans are overlaid on large scale Ordnance Survey Maps, and show the legal boundary as red edging within the OS black lines. Urban Title Plans use a scale of 1:1250, Rural Areas 1:2500 and Remote Rural Areas either 1:5000 or 1:10000.
The physical boundary is identified by examining physical features in the grounds of the property, that divide the property from the adjoining one, e.g. a hedge, tree, fence, wall, ditch, river, etc. As these physical features all have width it might be difficult to determine if the boundary passes to one side of the feature or the other, or along its centre. Further difficulties may arise, e.g. rivers often change their course, hedgerows grow thicker, fences may be replaced.
Many of the previous decisions of the High Courts of Justice have formed a body of case law, that lower courts, and therefore you and I, are obliged to follow, unless there is evidence to rebut them. If there is such evidence it will normally be identifiable from the documents provided in the Boundary Search. This body of case law, as it pertains to property boundaries, is conveniently known as Common Law Boundary Presumptions. In the booklet referred to above there is a whole chapter dealing with Boundary Presumptions.
Boundary disputes may be expensive to resolve. In a case before the Court of Appeal in 2015 (Gilks v Hodgson) the costs approached £500,000. The speediest and cheapest way to do so is to obtain a Boundary Search, which incorporates all of the available Land Registry documents for each property. These documents often contain detail that will help you resolve the dispute. You can obtain this search straight away by selecting the button below, for a cost of £89.95, which is far cheaper than the thousands, or tens of thousand of pounds you might otherwise have to pay. In the case referred to above the court said that neighbours with boundary disputes should try much harder to resolve the matter without a court case.
Once you have the documents a sensible task would be, after perusing and marking helpful sections of them, to discuss them with your neighbour, with a view to agreeing the boundaries between you. You might also wish to prepare an Informal Boundary Agreement, which can be signed by each of you and noted on the Land Registry Title Register and Title Plan for each of the properties.
Gilks v Hodgson 2015
From the case of Gilks v Hodgson 2015 we learn that where a boundary dispute can be resolved by looking at the Title Documents the court will not allow extrinsic evidence to override them, but where they cannot be identified with sufficient clarity then a sensible approach to resolving a boundary dispute where the boundaries cannot be defined from the Title Documents would be:
1 Look at the parcels clause of the Conveyance or Transfer when the property was first purchased. This will usually be included with a Boundary Search. The parcels clause describes the property.
2 Look at the Title Plan if the property was registered at the time it was built. In any event look at the Deed Plan attached to the original conveyance. Deeds Plans based on the OS will not likely contain sufficient detail, but many of them are handwritten drawings with measurements and T or H marks, and sometimes detailed plans drawn by surveyors. The court are quite prepared to accept extrinsic evidence such as Deed Plans, and they often do contain considerable useful detail.
3 Compare the plan to the physical features as seen from the ground. Hedges, fences, streams, trees and other physical features will be useful.
4 Do not assume an OS map identifies the boundaries. Rather, look for other sources of evidence, as these will add to or provide more clarity of detail.
If you are able to agree the boundaries with your neighbour you can download a free template for such an agreement by selecting the button below. If you would like to know more information about property boundaries and how our Boundary Search can be used to resolve them, we provide a free, fully illustrated and detailed booklet that describes what a Boundary Search is, provides details of all Common Law Boundary Presumptions, describes in detail what an Informal Boundary Agreement is and does, discusses Formal Boundary Agreements and then provides details of Case Studies and Samples of Boundary information contained within the Land Registry documents supplied.