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General boundaries rule: where to draw the line?

Problems can arise in developments when there is confusion as to where a land owner's property starts or ends. This problem is especially true where a development site is comprised, either in whole or in part of unregistered land.

We set out below some of the main barriers to establishing boundaries and outline how to resolve the precise positioning of a boundary through the Land Registry.

Where are the boundaries?

The width and placement of a boundary line on a title plan or property transfer can mean the difference on the ground of a property having a garden or a development having an access road. It will also determine the rights and liabilities that a land owner or occupier will need to manage.

Currently, the law on property boundaries lacks clarity, particularly when it comes to providing guidance on when and where boundaries exist. 

Generally, the property transfer by which ownership has been initially separated will be the primary source for establishing any relevant boundary lines. However in recent years difficulties have arisen with approaching boundaries where the initial property transfer is outdated. 

This could be seen as being down to the detailing of the 'red line', or lack thereof, attached to a property transfer. This is what supposedly dictates the edge of a boundary, and therefore the extent to the land which is owned.

The general boundaries rule

The rule followed by the Land Registry is that the exact boundary line of a property is undetermined. This means that Land Registry plans only indicate the general location of the boundary of the property.

In recent years the Land Registry has accepted that, while it will try to keep an accurate record of property boundaries, if there is a mistake in a property’s title register it will accept evidence that a red line boundary needs to be altered and the Land Registry will accept applications for the title register to be altered. 

But when it comes to purchasing and developing property, uncertainty as to where your land starts and end is far from ideal.

Can I fix a boundary?

It is possible for a land owner to fix its boundary by serving notice upon the Land Registry. This notice must be accompanied by a plan, tracing or extract from the proposed verbal description of the land to show clearly the fixed boundary proposed to be registered. 

If the Land Registry accepts the application, the filed plan is amended and a note added to the Property Register to indicate that the boundaries have been fixed. The filed plan is then deemed to show the fixed boundaries.

Fixing a boundary is not always ideal though, as the exercise can be both time consuming and expensive. 

As all of the work and costs associated with the fixing of a boundary lies with the applicant, the procedure for boundary fixing is rarely used.

Where to draw the line?

Where a land owner needs to resolve the precise positioning of a boundary (and so the general boundaries rule is of no assistance) and where boundary fixing cannot be agreed, a land owner may apply to get the Land Registry to determine the boundary (or part of the boundary). Any such application will need to be accompanied by a plan, or a plan and a verbal description, identifying the exact line of the boundary claimed. It will also need to show sufficient surrounding physical features to allow the position of the boundary to be drawn on the OS map. 

In order for an application for determination to be accepted, a land owner will need to the Land Registry to accept that the plan or the plan and verbal description provided identify the boundary line. The application must show an arguable case that the exact boundary line is in the position shown on the plan, or plan and verbal description supplied. Finally, the Land Registry must be able to identify all the owners of the land adjoining the boundary to be determined and have an address at which each owner may be given notice.

Any application to determine a boundary will be dismissed if the Land Registry is not satisfied that these criteria have been met.

Conclusion

When reviewing land owned or to be purchased it is easy to look at the title documents and think that you know exactly what you own or are purchasing. It is important to remember that the boundary on the plan is only a generally boundary, unless otherwise stated.

While it is possible to fix your boundaries, it can be expensive and problematic. Where a boundary cannot be agreed it may be necessary for it to be determined by the Land Registry.

For more information contact Derek Moore, legal director in TLT’s Social Housing team on +44 (0)333 006 0182 or derek.moore@TLTsolicitors.com.

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at September 2015. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions on www.TLTsolicitors.com

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