What you should check about property boundaries before making an offer?

How do you know whether the property you are buying is in the middle of a boundary dispute? How can you find out in advance of making an offer?

Neighbours fence

Boundary disputes are costly to resolve

Property boundaries are sometimes the cause of heated disputes between neighbours, either because they cannot agree who is responsible for maintaining the dividing fence or wall, or because one neighbour believes the other has encroached on his land.

Boundary issues can be a source of great frustration and may be costly to resolve.

Boundaries cannot be amended easily, although the Land Registry may amend title plans in some cases. It is far better to understand where the boundaries are, before purchasing a property, rather than assuming they can be agreed after the property has transferred.

It is the buyer's responsibility to check the boundaries of his prospective new home match his expectations and to find out which he is responsible for maintaining, before purchase.

 

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What constitutes a boundary?

Boundaries are usually defined by a feature that separates one property from another, such as a hedge, wall, fence or ditch, or even a piece of wire. Sometimes it is just the edge of a driveway.

Some boundaries have no physical feature so it may be tricky to determine exactly where they are. However, even where a physical feature exists it does not mean that it is the legal boundary. A fence may have been moved, or a new hedge planted in the wrong place.

How can I check the property's boundary?

Most land in England and Wales is registered with the Land Registry, which creates a title plan showing the general boundaries of the property by a red line.

You can obtain a copy of the title plan (and of any of the neighbouring property's title plans) for a small fee (£7 for individuals) before you make an offer and start the conveyancing process.

Check this plan against the actual property, make another visit to look at the plan on paper against what is on the ground.

Also check the plan against the estate agent's description. For example:

  • Does that large garden really belong to the property?
  • Is the fence in the right place?
  • Should that dividing wall be further to the other side?

There is nothing on the title plan - other than a red boundary line

A large proportion of Land Registry title plans reveal nothing more than an outline of the property's extent. Because of mapping tolerances (a distance on the ground may not be exactly the same as indicated by a scale plan) and the depth of physical boundaries (a thick wall for example) they do not give a precise determination of a boundary, nor indicate who has responsibility for which boundary.

However, some title plan drawings use 'T and H marks' to indicate ownership of a boundary. A 'T mark' extending into a property indicates that property has responsibility; where there are 2 'T marks' (making an H) it shows the boundary to be a party wall or fence, under joint ownership/responsibility.

If there is nothing to indicate who owns the boundary you will need to make further checks.

Ask who is responsible for the boundary

Many home owners rely on presumptions to determine a boundary:

  • the vendor may believe he is responsible for either the right or left hand boundary of the property
  • That fence posts are placed on the owner's side, therefore that person is responsible for maintaining the fence
  • The neighbour built the boundary wall entirely on his own land so the boundary falls on the farthest side from the property

However without a formal agreement on the title plan there may be no legal basis for this.

Ask the vendor if there is a boundary agreement in place.

If you are lucky, a boundary agreement may already be in place. This should be in writing and signed by the vendor and the neighbours.

Working out an exact boundary line is trickier and means obtaining as much information as possible from the title plans, registry documents and any other documentation that may be available. A surveyor may be appointed to draw up a detailed plan.

Both the boundary agreement and the determined boundary line can be added to the title plan of all participating properties by applying to the Land Registry and paying the appropriate fee, before the property is sold.

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