Jonathan Lynn Partner at Courtyard Solicitors comments on boundary disputes. Occasionally disputes arise between neighbours over precisely where the boundary between 2 properties lies. This can lead to very heated disputes. One neighbour may claim that the fence is in the right place and the other neighbour may claim that is because of an encroachment by the neighbour or one of his predecessors.
Often one of the neighbours will obtain office copy entries and claim that the dispute is over because the red line on the plan proves his case.
Someone in this position would be wise not to be too certain of his case based upon title plans from the Land Registry.
Firstly, how wide is that red line? When scaled up the convention is to assume that the line on a Land Registry plan is 3 feet wide. This is often more than the extent of disputed land. It is hard to accurately interpret a 3 foot line in such cases.
Also, and this is sometimes shocking to non lawyers the plan is not definitive proof of where the boundary lies. The plans are intended only to show a general indication of the boundary and not it’s precise location. It is none the less an important starting place.
If it is not possible to resolve the dispute with only the the office copy entries then things can become complex and it will be necessary to carry out an investigation into where the true boundary lies.
You may need to find the deed which originally created the 2 parcels of land. In an urban case it is highly likely that the the 2 neighbouring properties were developed at the same time. Typically there was an owner of a larger piece of land who sold the land to a developer, who may then have divided the development into plots which have been accurately described in the original deeds. This may be where the answer lies but it may well take a bit of finding.
Once one has the original deed then it is necessary to look at any descriptions of the land. Are there measurements? Do they make sense today? Does the description refer to natural features ike streams? Have these natural features moved? Is it described by reference to an old OS map? All in all can one make sense of the original descriptions, plan and measurements and is it possible to work out precisely where the boundary is.
The parcels clause of the conveyance will need to be considered. If there is some ambiguity between the parcels clause and the deed this will need to be resolved.
If the original deeds can not be found then other evidence will need to be taken into account. Are there neighbours who have been there a long time who can comment on where the boundary has been. Are there any historical documents (old family photos etc.) or any obligation imposed relating to maintaining a boundary hedge etc.
These sort of disputes can very quickly become expensive, and are often quite low in monetary value. If the neighbours have fallen out positions can become entrenched.
The greatest single factor in resolving disputes reasonably quickly and cheaply is to maintain neighbourliness between the potential parties. If this is the case then it is much more likely that the true position will be ascertained and if there is a situation that is hard to resolve decisively then it will be more likely that a compromise can be reached perhaps through mediation.
Remember that you will still be neighbours at the end and if your children ever want to get their ball back keep it calm and polite.