When it comes to understanding fence boundaries or knowing who owns what, the best starting point will always come with the title deeds. If your home is included in a new housing estate or scheme, it is very likely that there will be an available scale plan which will clearly mark out the boundaries of a garden and property.
In the first instance, you should refer to your solicitor or conveyancer to obtain a copy of the boundary plan for your property.
It is possible to obtain a copy of your property plan from HM Land Registry, although this may not be to a suitable scan. In many cases, the plan available from HM Land Registry is only available in a scale of 1 to 1250.
However, it may be that there is a plan from when the land was first sold which may provide a greater deal of information and guidance.
Copies of the plan including fence boundaries can be obtained as part of the title deeds. It is also possible to obtain copies of other people’s or properties title deeds and their fence boundaries. This information can be obtained online from the Land Registry site and it is a simple process.
There is no need to be concerned about someone finding out that you have obtained the title deeds for their property as this information is not made available.
If you are in dispute with a neighbour and you would prefer to obtain this information without tipping them or embroiling them in an argument until you have considered your position more fully, you can do so in the utmost confidence.
Fence Boundaries – The Ownership Myth
It is worthwhile dispelling a few legal myths about fence boundaries. There is no convention whereby a house on the left owns one boundary and the house in the middle owns the other and the house on the right owns another boundary. That is a legal fiction.
We will mention more about fence posts later but there is also no coconvention whereby the “good side” of the boundary fence belongs to one house or the other.
Finally, although as you appreciate there is a lot more to this, if the deeds say that one property has responsibility for the fence it does not confer the liability to maintain it.
It means that it is that person’s responsibility but it is entirely up to them what they do with it. They can actually let it fall down, provided it does not cause damage, and leave it.
Fence Boundaries and Boundary Walls Maintain Peace
It should always be remembered that the fence boundaries which are outlined on the plan will only provide a general indication of the boundaries for a property. It is helpful to understand the title number for your property but if you are unaware of this, you should examine the Public Index Map search, where you will be informed of the number or be informed that there is no number available for this land.
When examining the map, you will see marks in the shape of a T on the plan and the T points in the direction of the owner that has to maintain the boundary walls, the boundary fencing or the hedge. If there is a H straddling both sides of the fence, this is a party wall. If there is no marking on the deeds, a common occurrence, the law makes a presumption. It presumes that the owner of each side is responsible for repairing the fence.
With respect to boundary walls, there is a presumption made that the wall builder will ensure that the outer element of their wall be placed no further than the outer level of their land. They are expected not to encroach onto the property of their neighbour.
Boundary Walls Should be Built with Caution
In reality, fence boundaries arising in disputes are never a good idea and it is advised to head these off as much as possible. When a person first moves into a property they should take steps to photograph the boundaries which exist at that point.
These photographs can be added to on a regular basis to indicate any changes and the general status with respect to the boundary walls and fences. It is believed that prevention is far better than the cure and anyone looking to place a new boundary fence or wall should engage their neighbour as early as possible.
When installing a fence, the customary way to do so will see posts being placed entirely on your land while the face of the fence points towards your neighbours land. It is best not to encroach on the property of your neighbour and this is why many property owners will actually place their boundary wall an inch or two inside their property to minimise the likelihood of disputes arising.
What happens at the land registry
When Land Registry registers a property, they prepare two documents a register and a title plan. The register will show the name(s) of the owner(s) and any other data about the property. The title plan displays the common boundary of the registered land, unless determined as an exact boundary pursuant to section 60 of the Land Registration Act 2002.
Land Registry title plans are based on Ordnance Survey maps because they allow plans to be drawn to an acceptable standard and relate individual title plans to one another.
Land Registry may be able to provide include boundaries and title plans. Information available at the Land Registry may not help to solve fence boundaries issues and they cannot give legal advice in relation to boundary disputes or any relative matters.
If your property is not registered, you will have to rely mainly on your title deeds to try to determine the position of your legal boundary.
Fence boundaries and any disputes maybe complex and it is strongly advised to seek legal advice, from a solicitor.
What information is found on a title plan?
A title plan shows:
- A unique reference number of the registered property
- the Ordnance Survey map used to prepare the title plan
- Scale to which the plan is drawn. This is usually 1:1250 for urban areas and 1:2500 for rural areas
- Administrative area the property falls in
- The north point
- The black lines that signify features such as buildings, walls, fences or hedges
- A red line signifying the general fence boundaries of the registered land, unless having been determined as an exact boundary pursuant to section 60 of the Land Registration Act 2002
- Other colours, which will be explained in notes on the title plan or in the register.(The register also describes the land in the registered title and this description sometimes includes additional information on the extent of the property. For example, the register of a flat contains information about the floor on which the flat is situated.)
How to use the information on the title plan?
Title plans are prepared using the latest Ordnance Survey map at the time when the land was first registered. However, it is not possible to establish exact position of the boundary of a property by scaling from the title plan. This is due to title plans only showing the ‘general’ position of boundaries rather than the exact position, unless they are shown as having been determined as exact boundaries pursuant to section 60 of the Land Registration Act 2002.
The title plan will not display if the fence boundaries:
- goes within a feature on the title plan
- goes along one particular side of a feature
- includes all or any part of a road or stream alongside a feature.
The scale to which the title plan is drawn restricts the data shown. A black line may match to a wide hedge or a narrow fence. It could also signify one feature – such as fence boundaries – or more than one – such as a fence and a hedge that are close together. A feature may appear as a straight line but may not be straight on the ground.
Ordnance Survey publishes details of the accuracy to which their maps are drawn. Although Land Registry draw title plans to scale they are only a depiction of what is on the ground. Since there is some difficulty establishing a point to start measuring from, therefore measurements taken by scaling between structures shown on the title plan may not be the same as the actual distance measured between those same features on the ground for example, the property was on the side of a hill.
You can find more information here www.ordnancesurvey.gov.uk.
How Reliable are the Measurements on the Title Plans?
Most title plans will show measurements that were taken from the deeds, at the time the land was registered. Plans will only show measurements that were shown on plans contained in the title deeds. Though these might give approximate indications of the position of the boundary, they do not improve any greater precision to the title plan.
What can the register tell you about fence boundaries?
The register might contain data about who owns the boundaries or who is responsible for their upkeep. This information will only be available, if the deeds sent to the Land Registry, at the time of registration contains this information.
Even if the individual register refers to walls, fence boundaries, hedges and other boundary features, these may well have changed over time. For example, new boundary features might have been added and the neighbours at that time might have agreed who was responsible for them.
The neighbours’ register and title plan, if the property is registered, could give the information you want.
Plans in deeds and documents that will have been sent to Land Registry when the property is registered might also give information that may help. These plans will normally have been considered when the property was registered and normally not all are kept once deeds and documents registration has been completed.
Land Registry cannot decide boundary disputes?
Land Registry can only show the general position of fence boundaries. If you or your neighbour require more precise details, and you are unable to agree between you, and still want to go ahead with establish the boundary, the dispute be decided by the Land Registration division of the Property Chamber, First-tier Tribunal or a judge. You will need to ask a solicitor or other legal adviser for advice about what options are open to you.
A solicitor, or legal adviser, may advise you to consider the effects of any fence boundaries dispute if you are unable to reach an agreement. These could include:
- going to court which may take a long time
- costs of litigation which may be greater than the value of the land in question
- if the loss of the land would be detrimental to the value of the property
- possible impact on the re-sale value of the property.
It is advisable to reach an agreement with your neighbour if possible over yours and their fence boundaries.
About the author:
This article was written by a member of the Expert Answers legal advice team. Expert Answers provides online legal advice on all aspects of UK Law to users in the United Kingdom.