What is a Property Boundary?
There are two separate definitions for a property boundary. The first of these is the one that is seen on a digital or paper document. It is called the legal boundary. Legal boundaries are lines drawn onto a map to illustrate the location of the boundary. They are inserted both by Ordnance Survey and by the Land Registry. The Land Registry insert a red line within the black OS Boundary line to show the approximate position of the legal boundary. They notionally identify the boundary as accurately as they can, but it is rarely precise enough when it comes to measuring feet and inches. The other definition is known as the physical boundary. This is what you see when you step out of your house and look at it. The physical boundary may consist of a wall, a hedgerow, a fence or, river, or some other means of separating the property boundaries.
Identifying Your Boundaries
You should take the following steps, in the following order:
• Obtain a Boundary Search. A boundary Search will provide you with the most important documents available for identifying the legal boundary.
• Collect together any other property documents you may have. This might include pre-registration deeds (the old deeds that your solicitors never required and sent to you after the purchase of your house). You might discover other pertinent documents amongst them such as the original builders plans, planning and building regulation documents, estate agents particulars and the like.
• After reading through the above documents and understanding where the legal boundary is, you should go outside and look at the boundary, taking photographs, measurements and drawings, if you think it necessary.
• You should then discuss the boundary location with your neighbour, having all the relevant information fresh in your memory. If your neighbour assumes a contrary position you can show him your documents to support your point of view.
• If each of you agree, you may wish to enter into an Informal Boundary Agreement. No property exchanges hands and subseuqent purchasaers from you will not be bound by it, but it is clear evidence and persuasive for any court to consider. An Informal Boundary Agreement can be noted in each Title Register.
A Boundary Search provides the documents of Title for the properties on each side of the boundary or boundaries, i.e. the Title Registers and Title Plans. Also included are the digital Conveyancing Deeds and Deed Plans for each property that have been scanned by the Land Registry. The Land Registry have always, since 1925, followed the General Boundary Rule, which is that they show boundary positions on the Title Plans in a general way only, i.e. they are not precisely located and although accurate for most purposes, their accuracy fails when considering long, thin strips of disputed land each side of the boundary which may only be centimetres wide. This rule now forms part of the Land Registry Act 2002, section 60.
Accordingly, the Title Plan is probably the least useful of the available documents but is provided as a general guide and also because it illustrates the legal boundary. Generally, there are no statements or drawings stating the boundary positions, and you must therefore read the Title Registers carefully to see what they say. They often contain recognisable or implied clues, and there may be references to other documents.
In particular there may be reference to one or more Conveyancing Deeds in the Registers, with a note at the foot of one or more paragraphs in the Registers, to say that a Conveyancing Deed has been copied by the Land Registry. Whenever a note like this is present that Deed and any Deed Plan attached to it will be available, and will form part of the Boundary Search you have purchased. These should always be read, even though their language is difficult to read (older Deeds may be handwritten, words abbreviated and punctuation omitted).
Of these Deeds the most useful to you will be the earliest Conveyance, as this is the one most likely to have referred to boundary positions, and often this Deed will contain an illustrative plan, which may have been professionally drawn or may consist of a rough sketch but containing measurements and dimensions. Although measurements on Deed Plans may lack accuracy or be proven to be incorrect, they will certainly form persuasive authority for a court to consider, particularly where there is no other source to refute it. A court dealing with a boundary dispute will commence its investigation by looking at this conveyance and any plan attached. If the position of the boundaries can be clearly established from the conveyance and conveyance plan there will be no need to consider any further evidence, unless there is a claim that the conveyance is incorrect. If it can be established that the conveyance is incorrect the court will then look at extrinsic evidence.
Extrinsic Evidence from Other Documents
Although technically, Convyeancing Deeds, Deed Plans, Leases and Lease Plans comprise extrinsic evidence, these have been dealt with above and include part of the Boundary Search. In brief, the remaining documents, if they are available, may provide additional evidence:
- Plans and drawings retained by your local planning authority
- Plans and drawings retained by your local building control department
- Common Land Search
- Neighbourhood Report (seldom useful)
- Plans and Drawings from when the property was first erected
Neighbours and witnesses may also provide extrinsic evidence, e.g. where they were aware of the use of a boundary at an earlier date, perhaps during an earlier ownership, that is different from what it is now.