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Boundaries and Boundary Disputes

By: Louise Smith, barrister - Updated: 5 Jan 2011 | comments*Discuss
 
Boundaries Boundary Disputes

Issues relating to boundaries and any boundary disputes can turn even the most straightforward conveyancing exercise into a fraught process. Anyone who has experienced a boundary dispute will know that an argument in relation to a few inches of land can turn into a long, and expensive, legal battle.

Establishing the Boundaries for a Property

A buyer who is interested in purchasing a property may be reluctant to go ahead with a sale if there are any unresolved issues regarding the boundaries of the property. Whilst a disputed strip of land might make little difference to the actual value of a property, buyers may be keen to avoid the potentially huge legal costs of resolving an existing, unresolved dispute.

The original title deeds may show the precise boundaries for the property although this is not always the case. Even if the title deeds do show the boundaries it is possible that they may have changed over the intervening years with no record of the change having been made. A surveyor may be able to establish the correct boundaries of a property by examining the property itself as well as documents which relate to it. However, if neighbours cannot reach an agreement, it may be impossible to resolve a boundary dispute without mediation or even court action.

Boundaries and Title Plans

Title plans for properties on registered land are held by the Land Registry, together with other information. As part of the conveyancing process, copies of these documents should be obtained before contracts are exchanged. The problem is that, in most cases, the title plan held at the Land Registry gives only a general indication of a property’s boundaries.

The title plan will usually have been drawn by reference to the local Ordnance Survey map, which in itself may not be absolutely accurate. Further, the scale of the title plans held by the Land Registry may be insufficient to give an accurate guide to the boundaries – especially if any dispute relates to a small area of land. In some instances, however, the title plan held by the Land Registry will give the precise boundaries for a property. Where this is the case the title plan will state that it shows the exact boundaries for the property in accordance with section 60 of the Land Registration Act 2002.

Boundaries and the Seller’s Property Information Form

The Seller’s Property Information Form is widely used in residential conveyancing as part of the National Conveyancing Protocol. The form is completed by the seller prior to exchange of contracts to provide a prospective buyer with information about various aspects of the property. The information on the form is then likely to become part of the basis of the contracts that the parties subsequently exchange during the sale process.

Sellers should be honest when completing the form. Failure to provide pertinent information, a distortion of the truth or outright lies could invalidate exchange of contracts. It could also lead to possible legal action if the buyer relies on information in the form which turns out not to be true.

The first sections of the standard Property Information Form deal with the boundaries of the property. The seller is required to say who owns the various boundaries of the property, whether any boundaries have changed in the preceding 20 years and whether there have been any disputes regarding the boundaries of the property. If there have been any disputes, the seller is obliged to provide details of the dispute.

Boundary Disputes and DIY Conveyancing

An existing or potential boundary dispute should act as a warning sign for anyone thinking about doing their own conveyancing. The complexity of establishing the precise boundaries of a property and the potential cost consequences of getting it wrong should not be underestimated. Even if the decision is made to go ahead with DIY conveyancing it would almost certainly make good sense to get legal advice on the boundary issues before proceeding with a sale.

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