December 18, 2012

I give you my word (verbal agreements in boundary disputes)

In a recent decision the courts have clarified the position in boundary disputes where a verbal agreement has previously been reached between the parties.

The case of Yeates and Yeates v Line and Field [2012] EWHC 3085 (Ch) concerned an application by Mr and Mrs Yeates to be registered as title holders of a plot of land measuring 34 metres on the basis that they had acquired title to the land through adverse possession. The current title holders of the land objected to the application and the matter was referred to the Adjudicator to the Land Registry for determination.

At the adjudication hearing it was found that the parties had previously met on the land and reached an oral agreement that the title holders of the land (who also owned an adjoining plot of land) would erect a fence on the disputed piece of land but that Mr and Mrs Yeates would remain in possession of a small part of the land to the south of the fence.

In deciding the case the Adjudicator held Mr and Mrs Yeates had in fact acquired title to the land through adverse possession, as claimed, but refused to alter the title due to the oral agreement reached by both parties, which the Adjudicator argued formed a legally binding contract.

Mr and Mrs Yeates appealed the Adjudicator’s decision to the High Court arguing the oral agreement did not comply with the requirement imposed by section 2(1) of the Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1989 (the Act), that the contract was not in writing.

The court upheld the Adjudicator’s decision on the basis that under section 2(1) a contract had to have the purpose of disposing land, an oral compromise to demarcate an unclear boundary would not fall within the section unless it had a disposing purpose and related to more than a trivial amount of land.

The decision is a welcome common sense approach to boundary disputes and further clarification that an oral boundary agreement can be binding.

Holmes & Hills Solicitors has lawyers specialising in property dispute resolution and advising on issues such as boundary disputes.

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