Legal boundary between adjacent residential properties

15 May 2024

We were instructed in relation to a case concerning a dispute over where the legal boundary ran between two adjacent and large residential properties in the Cotswolds. 

The properties, which each comprised of a detached house, were separated by a stone wall which ran from the rear gardens to the front of the two houses.  The front gardens of the properties were then open plan and separated in part by a beech hedge, which ran in a straight line from the end of the stonewall for a short distance before it kinked southward to meet the centre of a tree.  The neighbours planted the beech hedge in late 2012 to replace a previous row of shrubs.

The clients believed that the stone wall was wholly situated on their property and belonged to them.  The neighbours had allowed plants to grow on the stone wall and had attached various garden items to the wall, but despite repeated requests, the neighbours had failed to remove those items.  The clients also believed that shortly before they purchased their property and at a time when it was unoccupied owing to the previous owner being in hospital, the neighbours had planted the beech hedge within their property and not along the line of the original shrubs that had been removed.

In contrast, the neighbour's case was that the stone wall was shared and situated equally on both properties, so the boundary between the two properties ran along the centre of the stone wall.  They also contended that they had verbally agreed with the previous owner of the client’s property that the shrubs were a long-standing and shared feature, that the beech hedge should replace them, and that they had planted it along the original line of the shrubs that had been removed.  Therefore, the issues in dispute were ownership of the stone wall and a strip of land in the front gardens, which measured 20 metres by 0.4 metres at its widest point.

As is always the case in boundary cases it was necessary to go back to the point in time when each property had become its own plot and to look at the conveyances to seek to ascertain the exact legal boundary.  In this case a single joint boundary expert was instructed, and he gave evidence to the court as to where he considered the legal boundary between the two properties lay.

Crucially, in this case, a lot of time was spent looking at the design plans and gathering evidence about what happened when the plots were initially marked out and whether or not the boundaries were physically marked out on site and then accurately translated onto the design plans.  

The judge concluded that the lines on the design plans were not easily transferred to the real world of the site, particularly as it was an odd-shaped plot of land that sloped significantly.  As a result, none of the houses were built in the exact locations shown on the design plan, nor were the boundary lines transferred exactly from the plan to the site.  It also became apparent that the design plan, rather than an as-built plan, was used to convey the various plots, which meant that there was a mismatch between the conveyance plans and the physical boundary lines of the plots.  This is very common in reality.

The Judge concluded that the position of the boundary had become complex over time and that there were actually several options regarding its position.  As is often the case, the Judge was heavily influenced by the single joint expert's view that the design plan was of great importance but concluded that the objective meaning of the words used in the original property conveyance documents were intended to delineate and define the conveyed land.

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