When it comes to registering land, mapping was imprecise for a long time, meaning many old title plans can cause confusion over boundary lines. However, agreeing boundaries amicably with your neighbour is not always possible. Where there is a dispute, a the Land Registry adjudicator will determine the boundary after a set procedure outlined below.
Since National Land Registration began in England (1862) there has been a process over time by which unregistered land has become registered. This has been accomplished by compulsory Land Registration area by area. Most residential properties that have changed hands in the last 30 years will now be registered. Digitisation of the Land Registry began in 1983 and Land Registration became compulsory on a national level in 1998. Accordingly all land transactions now need to be registered.
Over the period that land has been registered the standards for plans have slowly become more exacting. It is therefore common to be dealing with registered land where the plans are inadequate and new ones have to be drawn up.
Pinney Talfourd have expert surveyors who can carry out this mapping so as to bring title plans up to the required standard. Land Registration plans are generally to a scale of 1:1250 (Urban) and 1:2500 (Rural areas). Thus it will be realised that the width of the red lines shown on Land Registry plans, some of which were originally drawn in felt tip or biro, when scaled up, can be many feet/meters thick.
The consequence of this is that plans held at HM Land Registry are not accurate to the degree required where an issue arises over the precise position of a boundary between two properties. Most plans have no measurements, and even where they do exist, establishing a point from which the measurement is taken can be very difficult.
It is therefore not surprising that adjoining land owners can find themselves confused as to the position of the boundary.
Section 60(1) states: “the boundary of a registered estate as shown for the purposes of the register is a general boundary unless shown as a determined boundary under Section 2. A general boundary does not define the exact line of the boundary”. This is known as the ‘general boundaries rule’.
Unfortunately, many land owners who have copies of the Land Registration plans do not take legal advice. This unfortunatly means that they do not appreciate the meaning and effect of this rule which can often lead to them becoming involved in boundary disputes.
Where adjoining land owners are on amicable terms and there is genuine confusion over where the boundary is, they can make an agreement between them as to its precise position and ask the Land Registry to register this.
HM Land Registry has published Guide 19 to assist land owners in this situation. Guide 19 recommends setting the agreement out in a formal document. This can then be noted on each properties register (practice guide 40, paragraph 3.3.1). In most cases this will be sufficient. However, because the note is based on an agreement, it will not determine the exact boundary line.
HM Land Registry will not determine a disputed boundary between properties. If a land owner makes a unilateral application supported by detailed plans, the Land Registry will serve notice on the adjoining owner. If the adjoining owner agrees the plans, the Land Registry will accept it and note both property titles accordingly. It is important to note that the legal boundary is unaffected, the determined boundary simply recalling in detail where the actual boundary is.
If objection is made by the adjoining owner then the Land Registry can and generally will refer it to an adjudicator to the Land Registry.
The Land Registry adjudicator is an independent judicial office created by the Land Registration Act 2002. The Land Registry adjudicator is there to resolve disputes about registered land. Most disputes are referred to the adjudicator by the Land Registry. The adjudication service is separate from and independent of the Land Registry.
The applicant will make an Application to Determine the Exact Line of the Boundary. This will be supported by a statement of truth and evidence in support which will then be served on the respondent land owner who must then file an objection if the application is opposed.
On referral to the adjudicator, the adjudicator will issue directions for both parties to comply with which will generally include the filing and service of statements of case with all supporting documents.
Each case is unique and will require specific evidence. Some or all of the following documents may be relevant:
It is therefore beneficial to speak to an experienced property litigation lawyer who can identify the evdience required and help to collate this via other experts, databases and statements.
There are circumstances where parties become engaged in Court proceedings in the Civil Courts of England and Wales to determine a boundary rather than via the HM Land Registry adjudication route. A classic statement of the principals applicable to determination of boundaries was given in the case of Alan Wibberley Building Limited v Insley (1999) UK HL15. The leading judge laid down the following principles:
Issues over boundaries are all too common, especially where there is a lack of physical boundary evidence on the ground, which commonly occurs when garden walls/ fences/ structures are demolished as part of a refurbishment or rebuild. Land owners in dispute often take very entrenched positions, and can accrue very high legal costs in these disputes if not dealt with swiftly and professionally.
Our Residential Property Litigation Team are all experts in the resolution of boundary disputes between parties. Our approach is to provide advice at the earliest possible time to our client with regard to strength and weaknesses of the case. We will always urge parties to mediate or alternatively resolve the dispute rather than go to Court.
Determined boundary applications can be utilised as an alternative to Court proceedings and can save substantial costs in some cases. Visit our Boundary Disputes Service Page to find out more about how we can help you to resolve your boundary dipute.
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.