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Introduction

Boundaries are an integral part of property ownership, defining the limits of one’s land and rights. In the UK, understanding the complexities of boundary surveys is crucial for homeowners, developers, and those involved in land disputes. This comprehensive guide delves into the different types of boundaries, the challenges in accurately determining their locations, and the legal considerations surrounding boundary surveys.

Understanding Boundary Types

Physical Boundaries

Physical boundaries are the tangible features that visually demarcate the limits of a property, such as fences, walls, hedges, and watercourses. These physical features can provide clues about the location of the legal boundary, but their precise position may not necessarily coincide with the legal boundary line.

General Boundaries

Most registered titles in the UK show “general boundaries,” as established under the Land Registration Act 2002. General boundaries reflect a reasonable interpretation of the land described in the pre-registration deeds, based on the detail shown on Ordnance Survey mapping. While general boundaries provide a reasonably accurate representation of the property limits, they do not definitively establish the exact legal boundary.

Legal Boundaries

The legal boundary is an imaginary or invisible line that divides one person’s property from another’s. It is the precise, legally-defined boundary, which may or may not coincide with the physical features on the ground. Determining the exact position of a legal boundary can be challenging, as it often requires a detailed examination of historical records and documents, as well as potential input from the courts or the Land Registration division of the Property Chamber, First-tier Tribunal.

Challenges in Boundary Identification

Ordnance Survey Mapping Accuracy

Ordnance Survey, the national mapping agency of the UK, provides the underlying data for the majority of title plans recorded at the Land Registry. However, the accuracy of their large-scale topographic mapping data can be quite limited, particularly in urban areas and for small, residential properties where boundary disputes commonly arise.

Physical Boundary Changes

Physical boundary features, such as hedges and trees, can be prone to gradual changes over time, making it difficult to determine the original legal boundary line. This is especially true for living boundary structures that may take root and expand, obscuring the original boundary position.

Insufficient Deed Descriptions

Oftentimes, the descriptions of boundaries in property deeds and conveyances are not detailed enough to precisely establish the legal boundary line. In such cases, legal presumptions and extrinsic evidence may be used to help determine the boundary’s position.

Resolving Boundary Disputes

Boundary Agreements

If all parties involved in a boundary dispute agree on the resolution, a formal boundary agreement can be drawn up, either between the parties themselves or through their solicitors. This agreement would bind the parties to the outcome, but it would only persist for the lifetime of the signatories.

Determined Boundaries

Alternatively, a determined boundary application can be made to the Land Registry, which would formally log the agreed boundary position and bind it to the affected property titles forevermore. This process requires a specific type of plan with coordinates and dimensions, as well as a declaration by the surveyor confirming the reliability of the data.

Litigation and Court Determination

If the boundary dispute cannot be resolved amicably, the next step may be to consider litigation and potential determination by a judge. This should not be taken lightly, as the costs involved can be significant. In such cases, a boundary survey report that complies with the requirements for use as Expert Witness evidence (a Civil Procedure Rules Part 35 (CPR35) compliant report) may be necessary.

The Role of Boundary Surveys

Boundary surveys play a crucial role in accurately identifying and documenting the position of both physical and legal boundaries. A professional boundary survey can provide the following benefits:

  • Establishing the precise location of physical boundary features, such as fences, walls, and hedges
  • Identifying any discrepancies between the physical boundaries and the legal boundaries
  • Gathering the necessary evidence and documentation to support a boundary agreement or determined boundary application
  • Producing a report that can be used as expert witness evidence in a boundary dispute litigation

Conclusion

Navigating the complexities of boundary surveys in the UK requires a deep understanding of the different boundary types, the challenges in accurately identifying them, and the legal options available for resolving disputes. By engaging the services of a qualified land or boundary surveyor, property owners can ensure that their boundaries are properly documented and any disagreements are addressed in a calm and professional manner, ultimately protecting their valuable assets.

References

[1] HM Land Registry. (n.d.). Land Registry plans: boundaries (practice guide 40, supplement 3). GOV.UKhttps://www.gov.uk/government/publications/land-registry-plans-boundaries/land-registry-plans-boundaries-practice-guide-40-supplement-3

[2] Ordnance Survey. (n.d.). Land ownership and property boundaries | General public | OS. Ordnance Surveyhttps://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/public/land-boundaries

[3] Malcolm Hughes. (n.d.). Boundary Surveys. Malcolm Hugheshttps://www.malcolmhughes.co.uk/services/boundary-surveys/

[4] Topographical. (2019, January 10). Boundary Surveys – Physical, General or Legal?. Topographicalhttps://topographical.co.uk/blog/boundary-survey-types-of-boundaries