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What is mine?

View profile for Bethan Blackburn
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There are many scenarios where we are asked the question ‘what is mine?’. For example, developers want to be sure that their proposed development fits within the land they own; and tenants want to know exactly how much of a property they are leasing as this determines what they are responsible for repairing.

So how can the legal boundaries of a property be ascertained? The first place to look is the title deeds. If the land is registered, the Land Registry will have a ‘title plan’ which edges the property in red. Title plans are based on large scale Ordnance Survey maps which can lead to inaccuracies of plotting. As a result, the red edging on a Land Registry title plan is only a general indication of the legal boundary - the exact position of the legal boundary is intentionally left ambiguous unless an application is made to Land Registry to ‘fix’ the legal boundary (see below).

Historic conveyances, the description of the property within the lease (if the property is let) and other documents of title can also be checked; they may provide detailed descriptions and measurements of the property. However, there are sometimes conflicting descriptions of a property within historic documents and/or inaccurate measurements taken from unidentified points. Another problem is the thickness of pens used to mark a property a certain colour on plans. Depending on the scale of the plan, drawing a line around a property with a thick felt tip pen could result in that line being many metres wide, which, following the line around the whole edge of a property could make a substantial difference to its overall acreage, as well as a lack of clarity on the exact location of the boundary itself.

There are a number of established legal assumptions which can assist us in ascertaining the exact position of the legal boundaries of a property where it is not clear from the title deeds. For example, where a property adjoins a road, the owner of the property is deemed to own up to the middle line of the road (subject to the necessary rights and ownership of any highway authority which maintains the road). Where a property is bounded by a natural, non-tidal river or stream, ownership is deemed to extend up to the centre line of the river or stream and if the course of the river gradually changes naturally over time, the legal boundary changes too.

In certain circumstances it may be appropriate to make an application to the Land Registry to fix the exact position of the legal boundary, which can be agreed by neighbouring landowners or, if agreement cannot be reached, decided by a tribunal – this is known as boundary determination. Disputes over boundaries are not uncommon, particularly in residential neighbourhoods.

The features which surround a property on the ground such as walls, fences, hedges, rivers (the physical boundaries) do not always follow the legal boundaries of a property which is one of the many reasons why site visits can be so important (see Sophie’s earlier blog), so the physical boundaries on the ground and the legal boundaries can be compared.

If there is a clear discrepancy between the physical boundaries and the legal boundaries of a property, then it may be appropriate to claim adverse possession of the area in question (see Harvey’s earlier blog).

The legal boundary of a property can fall either side of a physical boundary feature or along the middle of the physical boundary feature. It may be that a boundary feature shared with a neighbouring property is a ‘party wall’. Generally speaking, the cost of maintaining and repairing party walls are shared between adjoining owners and each owner must obtain the other’s consent before doing anything with the party wall or anything which may affect the party wall, which is another issue which should be borne in mind.

The above outlines some of the issues we commonly come across when answering the question ‘what is mine?’ and highlights the importance of our standard practice of reviewing both the title documents and the property on the ground in detail, including raising thorough enquiries of the seller/landlord when buying/leasing any property; and also insisting on the production of accurate, properly plotted plans when buying or taking a lease of part of a property.

For advice on property boundaries or any other queries, please contact me on 02476 999398 or another member of the team.

Author: Bethan Blackburn 

23 October 2020