Posted on 12th November 2016
Land ownership and boundary disputes can result in lengthy and expensive legal action, often with emotions running high over even the smallest areas of land. If you live in England or Wales, determining the owner of a particular piece of land can be contentious, as there is usually no record of exact boundaries or who owns the hedge, wall, fence, tree, etc. between two properties.
Title plans held by HM Land Registry only reveal the general extent of land, although more detailed plans showing the exact boundaries are available in some cases.
Establishing boundary lines
In the best case scenarios, where property is registered, it may be possible to resolve any uncertainty over neighbours’ boundaries through discussions, signing an agreement to record the outcome, and then applying for a determined boundary. This remains valid if either party subsequently sell their property.
In cases where neighbours are unable to reach an agreement, other factors need to be considered.
Boundary fence responsibility
A tangible boundary can be created in a number of ways, including using a fence, wall, hedge, ditch or even a piece of wire. One of most common causes of disagreement between neighbours are fence disputes in some form or other, some arising through popular misconceptions regarding the appearance or positioning of the fence and implied ownership.
Contrary to popular belief, there are no rules stating that the fences on a specific side of a property, or facing a particular way, determine who owns that land. One clue to ownership can be found in the title deeds, and the T-marks shown on the boundaries.
Using T-marks in land registry boundary disputes
The location of the T-mark’s stalk in the garden or property marked in the title deeds
indicates who has ownership of a fence. Where a boundary is shared, e.g. in the case of a party fence wall, an H-mark (two T-marks mirrored on the boundary line) is conventionally used to symbolise responsibility.
The Party Wall Act 1996
This Act provides further direction for preventing or resolving land disputes, in addition to, or in place of, boundary fence rules.
A party wall straddles the boundary land owned by two or more different owners. It can be part of one building, e.g. where the properties are detached from each other, or it can separate two or more buildings.
A party wall may also stand completely on one owner’s land but be used by two or more owners to separate their buildings, e.g. where someone has erected a building up against another’s existing wall, without constructing their own. In this instance, only the section adjoined to the building will be deemed a “party wall”.
A party fence wall is defined as one which stands astride the boundary of different land owners to separate their land, but is not part of a building, e.g. a brick-built garden wall.
This does not include structures such as hedges or wooden fences.
Land ownership through possession
In some cases, it may be possible to claim ownership after 10 years continued possession of registered land, or 12 years for unregistered land. Our guide to Adverse Possession provides more information.
For further advice on resolving boundary disputes and land ownership issues, contact us to speak to our property law experts.