Good fences make good neighbours. Or you could say clear boundaries make for good neighbour relationships; and badly defined boundaries make for nothing but trouble. I mediate several boundary disputes every year and they all have one thing in common: inadequate descriptions and plans of the boundaries in the title deeds.
When property is sold it is usually identified by a plan; and these plans are frequently of small scale and unsupported by any description of the boundaries to make sense of the wriggly red lines on the plan. The problem is made worse when the description of the boundaries in the Conveyance or Transfer (The Parcels Clause) is incomplete, ambiguous or contradicts the plan.
Here are some tips to ensure that, whether buying or selling property, you do not inherit, or create, a problem that could be very expensive and difficult to resolve:
- Always provide a clean plan at a scale appropriate to the property; the standard 1:1250 plan used in land registry titles for houses is too small to show any detail meaningfully – use a 1:1000 or even better a 1:500 scale plan.
- In addition to the plan, describe each boundary, with measurements wherever possible, referring to fixed points that will not disappear in years to come (such as shrubs, wooden fence posts and anything else that could rot, die or easily be removed).
- Make sure the plan shows the property as-built on a new development. You would be amazed at how much the as-built estate will differ from the developer’s original proposal.
- On larger parcels such as farmland, where a detailed plan and description of each section of boundary is impractical, walk the boundary and note any feature where more than one interpretation is possible, e.g. where there is a hedge and ditch. Do not be afraid to ask neighbours about where they think the boundary is. If nothing else, this will highlight that there is a potential problem, but more often than not it will resolve the question there and then.
- Do not forget rights of way where the property you are buying does not have direct access onto a public highway. Make sure that you have asked appropriate questions about the width of the right of way, any restrictions on use, responsibility for maintenance and so on.
The simple rule is: do not take anything for granted. In every boundary dispute I have been involved with either as mediator or expert, the common theme is that someone has made an assumption that turned out to be wrong; and in all cases, the huge costs involved in rectifying the mistake could have been avoided if the above steps had been taken. Boundary disputes are, in my view, always avoidable if appropriate steps are taken at the outset. Unfortunately, you cannot turn back the clock so there are thousands of legal time bombs ticking quietly in property deeds all over the country. In these cases, the moment you become aware of a potential dispute, seek professional advice.
If you are already involved in a dispute, take a deep breath and a moment to consider: referring the dispute to mediation as early as possible is likely to save you time, money and stress.
David Hooper MA FRICS FAAV
Accredited mediator and arbitrator
Specialist in boundary disputes
www.berkeleysquaremediation.com 0773 098 2140