Commercial property solicitor, Rebecca Mason, takes a look at boundaries and the Land Registry.
It is often assumed that the title plans of a property registered with the Land Registry determine the exact boundary of that property. However, this is unfortunately not the case and property owners often only come to realise this when a dispute arises, usually centring around a boundary with an adjoining piece of land.
The problem is that rather than representing an exact boundary of a property, with a clear and enforceable separation of one piece land from another, a title plan and the boundary displayed on it is only a ‘general’ boundary of the registered land. This is unless it is shown as having been determined as an exact boundary pursuant to section 60 of the Land Registration Act 2002; most are not.
Because title plans will not assist in determining a precise boundary they rarely prove useful in supporting or disputing claims surrounding the location of a boundary. For instance, a title plan (unless determined as an exact boundary) often cannot be used to establish whether a boundary runs one side of a feature or another; runs within a feature; or corresponds to a single feature (such as a fence) or a number of features (such as a fence and a hedge).
To further complicate matters, features represented by a straight line on a title plan may actually represent a feature that is not straight on the ground. In addition, whilst title plans are prepared using the most up to date Ordnance Survey maps available as at the date of registration, it is possible that features change between the title plan being updated. This means title plans may show features that no longer exist or fail to show features that have since been added to the property, such as a fence or hedge.
Even for title plans that show measurements relating to the land these still only give a general indication of where the boundary lies, they do not add any greater accuracy to the plan as the exact point from which the measurement was originally made is unlikely to be clear and may even no longer exist if this was a feature such as a hedge.
What a title plan and register may be able to tell you about a plot of land is who owns a particular boundary or is responsible for maintaining it. However, such information is rarely available as it will only be featured where the deeds received by the Land Registry at the time of registration specifically refer to such details.
It is possible to establish a precise boundary line for a property through a process called ‘determining the boundary’. This requires a surveyor to produce a detailed plan to the Land Registry’s specifications clearly illustrating the exact boundary line. The boundary line illustrated in the surveyor’s plan will need to be supported by the contents of the deeds and it is recommended that agreement is sought from the affected neighbour. If prior agreement is not sought from the neighbour and the Land Registry progresses the application they will write to the neighbour in question giving them notice and the opportunity to object.
Where a dispute arises concerning the location of a boundary the Land Registry does not offer advice on supporting or defending a claim. In such cases legal advice will need to be sought from a property litigation solicitor.