Pushing the boundaries
The location of a boundary can be a contentious issue, with a disagreement over a few inches of land leading to the most bitter of disputes. Neighbour disputes are particularly challenging because of the proximity of the parties who continue to reside near to one another both during and after the dispute itself. This can have a profound impact on the relations between the parties and the enjoyment of their homes.
Although the deeds to a property may provide confirmation of the location of a boundary line, this is not always conclusive. In practice it can often be difficult to determine precisely where a boundary lies. Whilst the plans in a conveyance can provide assistance in locating the boundary line, these cannot always be relied upon when determining the correct boundary. It may be that the plans are inaccurate or have been drawn in such a way that the thick lines are not to scale and may well represent an area of several feet on the ground.
When determining a boundary dispute, the Courts will be guided by the following relevant principles:-
• Plans show only general boundaries unless the property is said to be "more particularly described in the plan"
• Ordnance Survey plans are no more than a general guide to a boundary feature
• The starting point is the language of the conveyance and any plan
• Extrinsic evidence such as topographical features on the land that existed when the land was divided may be relevant
• Evidence of subsequent conduct may be of value in showing what the original parties intended
• Evidence of later features may or may not be of relevance.
• It is important to bring certainty to the determination by proclaiming the boundary
• Evidence of adverse possession should be considered
• Informal boundary agreements need not be in writing
• A boundary agreement can be implied or inferred
• The Court should also bear in mind (1) what a reasonable layman would think he was buying; (2) every case turns on its own facts; and (3) the task of the court is to assess all available and admissible material in arriving at its answer, and then to achieve the correct answer.
In the case of Acco Properties Limited -v- Mr and Mrs Severn, the High Court dealt with a boundary dispute concerning a British Virgin Islands company which had purchased a plot and driveway adjoining the Defendant’s family home. The Defendants erected a fence in order to prevent the encroachment of trees and undergrowth and a dispute arose regarding the location of the boundary line. The width of the boundary in issue was, at its widest point, 19 inches (49cm). Following an analysis of the relevant principles, the Court determined that the fence had been erected at least 4 inches over the Claimant’s land.
The Court ordered that the fence should remain in situ and the Claimants should be awarded a modest financial sum (£1,000) to compensate them for the loss of what was a very narrow strip of land with no apparent commercial value. The Judge noted that the fence had been erected as a result of neglect on the part of successive owners of the Claimant’s land which had led to the hedgerow crossing over onto the Defendant’s land, which had caused some damage and was therefore a nuisance.
The Judge made clear that he did not “accept that the days are gone when a party can litigate over a tiny strip of land, although I would certainly agree that it is usually economic madness so to do, but a person remains entitled in law to protect and preserve that which is his or hers”.
Whilst the Courts will strive for a common sense approach, boundary disputes are often emotionally draining for those involved and can result in one of the parties eventually moving home as they find continuing to live in close proximity to their opponent untenable.
Blacks Solicitors can assist in the sale and purchase of residential and commercial property and any disputes which may subsequently arise.
Luke Patel on
0113 227 9316
or by email at LPatel@LawBlacks.com