Boundary Dispute Solicitors

We recognise that boundary disputes are stressful and emotionally and financially draining and offer support throughout.

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Legal boundaries separate all property and land, although they are not always visible. However, typically, hedges, fences, and walls indicate these boundaries or, at least, where people believe the boundary to be. 

However, these physical features may not always align with legal boundaries because boundaries often change over time due to adjustments and agreements between previous property owners. If your property is in England or Wales, it is likely that your property's deeds do not record a precise boundary line or who owns a fence, wall, or tree between the two properties. 

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What is a boundary dispute?

A boundary dispute occurs when two parties disagree about the position of a boundary line between properties or across land. Disputes can arise when one party constructs a physical feature over what the other party believes is their boundary, such as a wall, fence, or hedge. In other cases, a dispute can arise when one party removes a long-standing feature along a boundary.

Determining a boundary line

The first step in determining the legal boundary line between two properties or across the land is to check the title deeds from the Land Registry or the pre-registration deeds. However, the boundary line is not always clearly defined in these documents, or it may not reflect reality. If this is the case, a solicitor can instruct a qualified land surveyor to survey the land, check the title deeds, and use historical data and aerial photography to determine the legal boundary.

Types of boundary dispute 

  • Encroachment and trespass disputes can arise when a party changes the position of a boundary feature and includes more land on their side than they had previously.
  • Disputed boundaries - for example, where there is a discrepancy between what a property owner sees on a title plan and what is on the ground
  • Right-of-way and easement disputes can occur when one party has been walking over land for many years, for example, and then that land changes hands, and the new owner objects to the use. 
  • Adverse possession claims (also called squatter's rights) – a party may be able to claim ownership of land even if they were not the original owners, provided they can show they have exclusively used and occupied the land and no one else has, for over ten years.

Boundary wall and fence disputes

Boundary disputes can often be sparked when one neighbour wants to renew long-standing boundary features and remove an existing wall or fence line. Walls usually have concrete foundations, and fence posts are also fixed in with concrete, and it is often very difficult to put the new wall or fence up in precisely the old position. However, if the new feature goes up along a slightly new line, it can cause tensions between neighbours and trigger disputes.

It can also transpire later down the line that the original wall or fence was not in the right place, so it is always advisable to ensure you know where the legal boundary line is before you spend money and make changes. 

Land boundary disputes

Land boundary disputes can arise between land owners about the position of the legal and physical boundaries that separate the two plots. 

Issues can arise when plots change hands, developments are planned, or features are removed and replaced. 

It is essential to obtain legal advice from a specialist boundary lawyer and boundary surveyor if you think your land is being trespassed on, have lost land to a neighbour, or are on the receiving end of a letter of claim.

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Boundary agreements 

Most properties in England and Wales have general boundaries, but if you want something precise, you can either enter into a boundary agreement or obtain a determined boundary.

Property owners may come to an agreement about the boundary between their properties. The agreement can deal with the position of the legal boundary, or the maintenance of a boundary feature (such as a hedge), or both. 

For example, neighbours may agree that the legal boundary between their properties is the middle of a row of trees (and that each will keep their side of the trees below a certain height). Or there may be a post-and-rail fence and a brick wall running close together between 2 properties, and the owners agree on which of the two possible boundary features marks the legal boundary.

Legal advice should always be taken where a boundary agreement or transfer of land needs to be documented and registered at HM Land Registry. You may also need a surveyor to help prepare a land registry-compliant plan.

Determined boundaries

Unlike a general boundary, a determined boundary shows "the exact line of the boundary of a registered estate".

HM Land Registry does not determine a boundary by resolving a disagreement as to where the exact line of the boundary is located. 

Instead, with the exact line having been identified, HM Land Registry will then make it apparent from the register that the boundary has been determined. 

It is not always possible for an owner to apply for a boundary to be shown in the register as determined. In particular, the applicant may be unable to produce the necessary evidence to establish the exact line of the boundary.

To have a boundary determined, you can apply to HM Land Registry.

This option might be appropriate where the neighbours agree on the exact boundary. If not, the neighbours might jointly instruct an independent expert.

Land Registry

HM Land Registry title plans alone only show a property owner where a legal boundary is if a determined boundary is in place, which is very rare. 

HM Land Registry can help determine a legal boundary if there is a broad agreement between the two neighbouring land owners. 

If a dispute arises about a boundary, a landowner can either issue court proceedings or, if the dispute arises following an application to HM Land Registry, refer the matter to the First-Tier Property Tribunal for determination.  

Resolving boundary disputes 

Given that the dispute is likely to be with a neighbour that you live or work close to, it is always advisable to try and avoid court proceedings and resolve matters amicably. 

All forms of alternative dispute resolution should be considered, whether a meeting with the other party, with or without lawyers present, or a formal mediation with a third-party mediator appointed. 

No matter the outcome, unless one party sells up and moves, you will remain neighbours and need to try and co-exist peacefully. 

Early settlements and avoiding court proceedings, and the pressure of litigation and costs should be explored at every stage.

Why choose us as your boundary dispute lawyers

We have a team of specialist property dispute lawyers with over 100 years of experience, specialising in boundary and neighbour disputes.

That experience includes advising on the case's merits, exploring settlement opportunities, including mediation, instructing boundary surveyor experts, preparing experts for cross-examination, preparing for trial, and providing robust advice about prospects of success. 

We will always give you frank advice about the costs that can be incurred if you embark on a boundary dispute and encourage settlement at all stages.

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It is unusual for a boundary dispute to end up at a final hearing. We always try to resolve disputes using alternative dispute resolution. However, if the dispute ends up at a final hearing, it could cost in the region of £100,000 plus VAT per party.

Evidence is important in a boundary dispute, so we suggest involving a surveyor from day one and getting early legal advice. 

Yes, you can build up to the boundary of your property, but be mindful of the Party Wall Act 1996 and its requirements.

It is important understand their position as early as possible, gather any relevant evidence and take prompt legal advice.

The 7-year boundary rule is a myth. It may be possible to claim ownership of land after 10 or 12 years of exclusive occupation. 

Unfortunately, the title deeds do not always show the garden boundary, although the plans may be a starting point.

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