Check property boundaries before you make an offer

Many people assume that property boundaries are defined by features such as the edge of a driveway, a wall, fence, ditch or hedge. A boundary line may even be only a length of wire.

However, just because a feature separating two properties exists, it may not be the legal boundary. Where there is no physical feature, a boundary may be even more difficult to determine.

So where exactly does the boundary lie?

The Land Registry of England and Wales holds the title plans of all properties. Copies of any plan may be obtained for a small fee (£7 per plan), so it is possible to check the boundaries of your potential new home and those around it before you progress with an offer.

The plan will show the general boundary, marked with a red line, and you can check this with both the estate agent’s description and the property in situ.

Consider the following:

  • Has a fence been moved to a different position?
  • Does the garden really extend so far?
  • Is the dividing wall in the right place?

Be aware that the red lines on the majority of Land Registry plans only provide an outline of the property’s boundary. These plans cannot give a precise extent of a boundary because of the thickness of walls (for example), and mapping tolerances that mean the distance on the ground may not be exactly drawn to scale on the plan.

Who owns the boundary and who has responsibility for its maintenance?

There are many common presumptions about where a boundary should lie and who is responsible for it. These include:

  • A property owner who built a new wall/erected fence/planted hedge did so completely within the boundary of his own house.
  • That anyone putting up a new fence will courteously put the posts on their side of a fence, therefore indicating that they are responsible the fence’s maintenance.
  • Each householder in a street is responsible for the left hand (or right hand) boundary.

Studying the plans may reveal T or H marks. These clearly indicate who owns a boundary. Where the tail of the T mark extends inwards from the red boundary line it shows the property within the line has responsibility for that boundary. The H mark (in effect 2 T marks) indicates a shared party wall/fence, i.e. one which is under joint responsibility.

However, many plans do not show T or H marks, so further investigation will be necessary.

Are there any boundary agreements in place?

Working out where a boundary line lies can be tricky, even with information from title plans and registry documents.

A boundary agreement may already be in place, signed by both the property’s vendor and the owner of the neighbouring property. If not, the vendor may need to appoint a surveyor to draw up a detailed plan.

The agreement and the determined boundary line can be added to the title plans of all adjacent properties through application to the Land Registry, prior the house being sold. A fee is payable for this service.

Finally

It is the buyer’s responsibility to understand where the boundaries of his prospective new home lie before purchase, rather than hoping that issues can be resolved after the house has transferred to his ownership.

As boundaries cannot easily be amended they can be costly to resolve.  Boundary disputes between neighbours can become heated and are often source of great frustration.