Whose boundary?

Updated: Oct 8, 2018

Boundaries - something that every property has and of which therefore every owner needs to be aware. Where is its exact line? What is it made of? Who does it belong to? Whose is the responsibility?

Land Registry information is steadily improving the record of 'where' a boundary is. It is surprising how many 'lost corners' have appeared so at least there are now fewer disagreements on where a boundary lies. And perhaps there are now fewer false claims of ownership or of losing land which the owner knows is rightfully his or hers but lacks the evidence to prove it. But a line on a map can still denote a significant area on the ground, so accuracy and a larger scale plan is a benefit.

Hedge? Fence? Wall? Ditch? Bank? One old 'rule' was that the owner dug a ditch, used the spoil to build a bank and planted a hedge on the bank. The ditch then became the boundary. But OS sheets only show the hedge line - so there is a risk on the map of a Transfer that the 'wrong' line is recorded.

Which side are the fence posts?  Some say the owner of a fence bordering farmland should put them on the 'nearside', so that the posts are on his land and the wire and rails are on the boundary line; the wire or rail are also stronger to cope with livestock pressing against it. Alternatively, the owner puts the posts on the far side, to give a more attractive appearance - though perhaps not to the neighbour!

Party Walls - these relate to buildings and there is a whole statute (Party Walls Act 1996) which defines and describes ownership, and the responsibility of the Party Wall owner to maintain, repair and pay for the wall - and the process for resolving disputes. And what about a wall on a field or garden boundary? A 'Party Wall Fence'!  A good 'politician's' description!  But where is the boundary - on this side or the other?  Or through the middle? Or, is it jointly owned?

The symbol 'T' (T-marks) appearing on a map or plan is a tried and tested way to record boundary ownership. Sadly the Land Registry does not always seem to add these to their maps. Old Deed plans often did. It makes a lot of sense for the owner or seller/ transferor, or even neighbours, to agree boundary ownership and responsibility. If necessary, then write these details into the transfer documents if you are not confident that the information on the plan will stand the test of time.

Whatever you do, it is best to try not to leave these things unresolved.  Sooner or later one party or the other will need to decide who owns a tree in need of felling, a fence damaged by stock, a wall which is crumbling and they will not want the added problem of finding out who is responsible before any remedial action can be taken. And disputes can prove to be expensive, and certainly harmful to good relations with neighbours, that in all other respects should be harmonious and positive.