A legal guide to boundary disputes and land disputes

A legal guide to boundary disputes and land disputes

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Land and boundary disputes arise where there is conflict over land ownership, usage, possession, or boundaries. Such disputes cover a range of issues, including:
  • Encroachment
  • Easements and Rights of Way
  • Shared Amenities
  • Adverse Possession Claims
  • Land Use Changes
  • Unclear or Conflicting Boundaries
  • Ownership Claims
  • Inheritance
  • Land Grabbing
  • Neighbour Relations.

Land and boundary disputes are usually complex and require expert legal intervention. Whether you’re a property owner, a real estate professional, or someone involved in a land-related conflict, this guide will help you understand the intricacies of boundary disputes and what you need to do to reach a satisfactory resolution.

What is a boundary dispute?

In simple terms, a boundary dispute is a disagreement between neighbours about the boundary between their properties. But in reality, such disputes are rarely simple.

The cornerstones of land ownership, determining property boundaries, ownership rights, responsibilities, and usage, is rarely straightforward, especially where various deeds, historical records, local laws, and title issues are in the mix. As such, boundary disagreements often become complex. And, if not dealt with swiftly, can lead to litigation. The most common boundary disputes fall into the following four categories:

  • Territorial. Disputes relating to the location of property lines
  • Positional. Disagreements that arise when one party asserts that a fence, structure, or any other enhancement has been situated incorrectly, potentially encroaching on their property
  • Functional. Disputes over the use or purpose of a property. For example, if a residential property is being used for commercial purposes
  • Resource. Debates over shared amenities, access to common areas, etc.

Common types of boundary disputes

Boundary disputes often arise when there has been a change of ownership, a change in use, or when someone wants to develop or extend their home.
  • Over a fifth of UK homeowners have been involved in a boundary dispute with a neighbour
  • In 2022, over 6 million Britons were involved in boundary disputes
  • The average space people argue over is just two per cent of the average garden
  • The most common property boundary issues involve a fence, wall or hedge (31%), a plant or tree (14%), access issues (13%)
Here are some of the most common types of boundary disputes our property litigation solicitors have helped our clients navigate successfully:
  • Encroachment Disputes. For example, when a structure, such as a fence, hedge, wall, or recently built building, extends beyond the agreed-upon boundary onto a neighbouring property
  • Disputed Boundaries. Commonly relating to the precise location or demarcation of a boundary line. Such disputes are more likely to occur when there are conflicting property deeds, unclear historical records, or survey inaccuracies
  • Easement Disputes. An easement gives one party specific rights to use or access a portion of a property owned by someone else (e.g. a shared driveway or pathway). Some owners apply to the Court to remove a historical easement.
  • Adverse Possession Claims. When one party claims ownership of a piece of land due to their continuous, open, and unchallenged use of it over a specific period.
  • Shared Amenities Disputes. Usually relating to conflicts over maintenance responsibilities, costs, etc.
  • Property/Land Usage Disputes. For example, short-term rental disputes due to platforms like Airbnb.

How to determine a boundary line

Figuring out exactly where a property’s boundaries are, especially in complicated situations, might need more than just the ability to understand legal documents like title deeds. Historical records, local regulations, potential shared rights, and issues related to property titles may also be required to establish who owns what.When looking at the facts of a case, the Courts will usually consider the following:

Title Deeds, Property Plans and Related Documents
Deeds, property descriptions, the original conveyance, details about past transactions, and any recorded agreements or restrictions related to the property provide the starting point for any boundary dispute. Things like fences, walls, trees, and streams may be mentioned in deeds or historical records, giving evidence of the boundary. When these documents are clear, it may be possible to settle the boundary dispute early.

Other Supporting Evidence
The disputing parties should establish whether there are any historical legal disputes or agreements related to the property – both formal and informal. This information can provide valuable insight into boundary matters. Maps and other historical records may also shed light on a property’s past boundaries, and local regulations can prove its intended usage and where its boundaries are defined. Photographs, including aerial and historical snapshots, can support arguments about property boundaries. Evidence in the form of witness statements, including from residents and others with knowledge of the position of the borders, can also be extremely valuable.

In boundary disputes, it is common for the parties involved to appoint their own independent surveyor. These surveyors use specialised equipment to determine a property’s boundaries based on legal descriptions and markers. However, it is not uncommon for surveyors to disagree on where the boundaries lie. Appointing a suitably qualified surveyor with sound experience in boundary disputes will help you present the best possible case at Court.

Possible defences for boundary disputes

When taking a boundary dispute case to court, you should be prepared for the opposing side to present a robust defence. The defence used will depend on the issues and circumstances involved. For example, if you want to stop your neighbour from using land that belongs to you, they could use one of the following defences:

  • Adverse possession. If your neighbour can prove that they have been using a part of your land openly and consistently for a certain period (usually ten or twelve years), they could claim ‘adverse possession’ and make a claim to your land.
  • Profit à prendre. Profit à prendre grants your neighbour the right to enter your land and remove a product or resource. For example, if you, or a previous owner, gave your neighbour the right to harvest crops on your land. If your neighbour has used your land this way for 30 years or more, they could claim profit à prendre if you attempt to stop them using your land.
  • Rights of Way. If your neighbour has used your land for 20 years or more, they could have acquired a right of way.
  • Necessity. If there used to be one piece of land, which was subsequently split, and now your neighbour has to cross your portion to reach their land, they could have a claim based on ‘necessity’.

Boundary disputes protocol in England & Wales

A non-binding pre-action protocol, theProtocol for Disputes between Neighbours about the Location of their Boundary (The Boundary Disputes Protocol) was developed to encourage parties to work together to resolve their boundary disputes early.

The Protocol applies to residential and commercial properties and assumes that there have been attempts to resolve the dispute through informal discussions, but these negotiations have failed. The Protocol provides a structured dispute resolution process to help ensure that the neighbours involved:

  • Exchange sufficient information in a timely manner to minimise the scope for disputes between them
  • Understand the importance of appointing professional advisers to make sure that their position is protected (where necessary)
  • Are aware of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods to enable them to readily resolve their disputes.

In short, the Protocol aims to resolve boundary disputes quickly and keep litigation costs to a minimum. If your case does proceed to litigation, the Court will expect there to have been some constructive discussion and negotiation before getting to that stage. The Protocol has the support of the Property Litigation Association.

How to resolve boundary disputes

Boundary disputes can quickly escalate, so knowing what to do and when is vital. In England and Wales, resolving a boundary dispute usually involves the following steps.

Communication with your neighbour
Attempting to resolve the dispute informally with your neighbour is encouraged in the early stages of any boundary dispute. You should also appoint a professional land surveyor to conduct a thorough survey of the property, which can help to clarify the boundaries. However, you should know that surveying methods can vary, often leading to different conclusions about boundary locations. Should early and informal negotiations fail, you should familiarise yourself with the Pre-Action Protocol for Property Disputes.

It is vital to seek legal advice ASAP when it is clear that a resolution is only possible with help. Your property litigation lawyer should then recommend an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) method, such as mediation, to help both parties come to an agreement. Agreements reached via mediation are not legally binding, but they can be made so if both parties agree.

Formal legal proceedings may be required where mediation is unsuitable or has failed. Litigation should always be the last resort unless it is the only viable option. There are two ways to use the Courts to resolve your boundary-related issues.

  • Make an application to the Land Registry. If your neighbour objects and mediation does not resolve the matter, your case will be referred to the Land Registry Division of the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber).
  • Issue proceedings at a County Court.

Where litigation is the best route to resolve your case, our specialist boundary dispute solicitors will fight your corner and help you achieve the best possible outcome. With many years experience covering all types of property disputes, our experienced litigation lawyers understand the nuances of the law and what it takes to achieve our client’s goal. Contact us today for your free initial consultation by calling 020 7467 3980.

How to win a boundary dispute

Winning a boundary dispute – or reaching a fair settlement – requires gathering evidence, effectively presenting your case, and understanding the legal process.Here are some top tips to increase your chances of success:

  • Seek legal advice ASAP. Appointing an experienced property litigation solicitor early in the process will ensure you understand your rights, obligations, and any potential legal actions you can take.
  • Collect all relevant evidence. Clear and convincing evidence is crucial to winning your boundary dispute.
  • Hire a professional land surveyor. A well-prepared survey can provide strong evidence for your case.
  • Adhere to the Pre-Action Protocol for Property Disputes.  This has been designed to encourage parties to work together to resolve their boundary disputes early.
  • Attempt to resolve your case through negotiation and mediation. Be open to negotiation and mediation as a first step. This may help you reach a mutually agreeable solution. A willingness to compromise can also help to resolve your case quicker. However, you should be sure that the agreed-upon solution works for you.
  • Take Court action if necessary. Should negotiations fail, a strong case, backed by clear evidence and expert testimony, can help win your boundary dispute.

The legal process can take time. So you must stay patient and persistent throughout the boundary dispute resolution process.

Average cost of boundary disputes

There are many determining factors that influence costs relating to boundary disputes. The potential costs involved in a boundary dispute include:

  • Legal Fees. At Summit Law, we offer a range of flexible payment options, including retainers, fixed fees, and hourly rates
  • Surveying Costs. These costs vary based on the property’s size and the survey’s complexity
  • Expert Witness Fees: In some cases, expert witnesses might be required to provide opinions on property boundaries, historical use, or other relevant matters
  • Court Fees. If the boundary dispute goes to court, fees will apply.

Of course, the longer the boundary dispute case goes on, the more it will cost, so it pays to find a resolution as quickly as possible. Likewise, costs are likely to be lower if the boundary dispute is settled via mediation rather than litigation. If the matter gets to Court, whoever loses the case is usually expected to pay the legal costs.

Boundary Disputes - FAQs

Although you can sell a house with a boundary dispute, legal issues will likely impact the home’s marketability and sale price. It’s important to know that you must provide full and honest information about any boundary disputes to potential buyers. Potential buyers might also face challenges obtaining mortgage approvals for a property with an unresolved boundary dispute. As such, and wherever possible, it’s usually advisable to try to resolve the boundary dispute before listing the property for sale.
In England and Wales, the time limit for boundary disputes is 12 years. Certain situations might affect this limitation period, so legal advice is recommended.

Contact our boundary dispute solicitors today

Boundary disputes can be stressful, there’s no doubt about that. When such disputes arise, it’s important to seek early legal advice from experienced property litigation solicitors. Our specialist litigation lawyers have unrivalled experience with boundary disputes and have successfully negotiated many favourable outcomes for our clients.

In addition to resolving neighbour quarrels quickly and cost-effectively, our considered and sensitive approach stops them from escalating. Here to help with all your boundary dispute needs, including where there are complex and sensitive issues, please contact our boundary dispute solicitors on 020 7467 3980 or complete the enquiry form on this page.