Where is the Boundary?

September 2014

Where is the Boundary?

A policy paper has recently been released by the Land Registry and the Ordnance Survey to outline the role each plays in displaying and identifying ownership of boundaries between properties.

From the outset it is important to distinguish between a physical boundary (such as a wall or fence ) and the legal boundary which identifies the precise separation of ownership of land. These "boundaries" may not necessarily be the same.

The Physical Boundary

A registered title almost never shows ownership of individual boundary structures such as walls or hedges. There may however be some relevant information in previous deeds lodged with the registry which declares ownership or maintenance liability or in the case of newbuild properties a "T" mark on the register plan. Older deeds seldom cover such matters and if ownership or maintenance is important the parties may need to talk to neighbours or previous owners to clarify the position. Ordnance Survey cannot provide information on either property ownership or maintenance liability.

The Legal Boundary

The legal boundary deals with the separation of legal ownership between parties. It is an invisible line without thickness or width and usually, but not always, falls somewhere in or along a boundary feature such as a wall or a hedge. The exact positions of the legal boundaries are almost never shown on registered title plans and of course are not covered on ordnance maps.

The General Boundaries Rule

England and Wales operates a "general boundaries" system of land registration where the title plan shows the boundaries in relation to a physical feature on the ground, such as a wall as identified on the ordnance survey map. This boundary is shown on the land registry plan as red edging. Where a boundary is not defined by a physical feature on the ordnance map then the land registry will indicate the extent of the land with a dotted red line. Utilising a general boundaries rule makes eminent practical sense as in most cases the position of the boundary between properties is either self evident or is not of material consequence and avoids the need for forensic investigation to define the exact boundary measurement. Where boundary disputes arise between neighbours however they can prove to be a very costly and time-consuming exercise.