Legal Boundaries

Offington Land Surveys can offer some valuable technical services in relation to land transfers & boundary issues such as:

  • precise land surveys of current situation;
  • overlay of title plans / deed plans / historical maps / Ordnance Survey maps to current land survey;
  • compliant Land Registry TP1 transfer plans;
  • certified Determined Boundary plans; and
  • setting out of General Boundaries or other lines on the ground.
  • However, for commercial reasons, Offington Land Surveys does not offer legal boundary expert witness to the Courts*.

    So, if you have a boundary dispute on your hands, we can provide certain technical assistance but there are limitations as to how we can help you for reasons explained below.

    Please read on for further information on legal boundaries, though being aware that there is some generalisation and simplification and, furthermore, this note should be read in conjunction with our terms of use.

    A note on Legal Boundaries

    Contents

    Common Misconceptions

    Please be aware of these common misconceptions on Legal Boundaries (as we interpret from frequent enquiries):

    1. Legal boundaries are determined by Land Registry Title Plans.

    2. A Chartered Surveyor can use the Title Plan to simply turn up and stake out the legal boundary on the ground.

    3. A Chartered Surveyor, in so doing, makes a ruling over the neighbours as to the extent of their respective legal title.

    Whilst there are some exceptions, the facts are:

    1. The lines on Title Plans are only General Boundaries and do not determine the legal boundary position.

    2. Legal boundary position is usually not determined until a dispute arises & is concluded, so cannot be staked out prior to that.

    3. Determination of the position of a disputed legal boundary is only for the Courts.

    Having taken this in, it no doubt raises a lot of questions and concerns about where you stand.

    The following sections generally outline our understanding of legal boundaries and legal boundary disputes for your information including where we might be able to assist in a limited capacity.

    Legal Boundary

    The Land Registry describes a legal boundary as "An imaginary or invisible line dividing one person's property from that of another. It is an exact line having no thickness or width and is rarely identified with any precision either on the ground or in conveyances or transfers and is not shown on Ordnance Survey mapping. Ultimately the exact position of a boundary, if disputed, can be determined only by the court or the Land Registration division of the Property Chamber, First-tier Tribunal."

    Ordnance Survey Maps

    Let's start with the statement that legal boundaries are not shown in Ordnance Survey mapping.

    The lines in the Ordnance Survey (OS) map do not represent legal boundaries explicitly. They represent physical features (houses, fences, walls, hedges, ditches, treelines, watercourses, etc) as measured & presented by the OS.

    This might have been undertaken at some point in history, possibly up to 65 years ago using surveying and drafting methods of the era. You also have to consider that some features such as watercourses, hedges and tree lines cannot be precisely measured as the position is subject to interpretation by the surveyor.

    Scaled measurements could be compromised due to the thickness of the map lines - that are effectively a foot wide at scale.

    The accuracy (vs the actual position of the feature on the ground) is certified by the OS, but only to within one or more metres, varying with different map scales. So, it is not a precise positioning. This is not intended as a criticism of the Ordnance Survey. It just aims to highlight that their internationally renowned maps should not be used beyond capability/purpose which does not extend to documenting legal boundary lines or positioning anything precisely.

    OS maps are also simplified, for instance, showing wide objects (like a hedge or watercourse) as only one line. They may represent parallel features (like a fence next to a hedge) using only one line, or they may simplify/straighten lines - cartographic adjustments for appearances.

    Title Plans

    What have OS maps got to do with anything? The Land Registry uses the OS map as the content for its Title Plans.

    On receiving a Title registration or transfer plan, the Officers create a Title Plan by applying coloured edging (usually red) to OS map lines approximate to the positions indicated**. Our understanding is that they do this if the OS line is within a metre or two of the indicated position, without consideration as to whether the physical feature (represented by the OS map line) forms the legal boundary. The edging does not promote the OS line to a determined legal boundary line.

    Title Plans contain disclaimers about their use: "This title plan shows the general position, not the exact line, of the boundaries. It may be subject to distortions in scale. Measurements scaled from this plan may not match measurements between the same points on the ground"..

    But the limitations of the Title Plan aren't just a risk of a possibly distorted, non-official copy of the Title Plan. The fact is, the General Boundary line might be inaccurate and, more to the point, the physical feature represented may not actually form the true legal boundary line anyway.

    Moreover, if the legal boundary was formed at a physical feature, then it is the original actual position of the feature on the ground that forms the legal boundary, not the position of a line on a map (or on a Title Plan copy of the map), especially when Legislation rules, from the outset of the OS, that the maps shall not be used to define or alter existing legal boundaries.

    This arguably might not be clear in the Land Registry disclaimers but it is explicitly clear in recent Legislation - a General Boundary line on a Title Plan does not determine the exact line of the boundary.

    So, on this basis, it is not reasonable to rely on a Title Plan to assert the extent of your land.

    How are Legal Boundaries Determined?

    As stated, the legal boundary is rarely identified with any precision either..

    .. on the ground - who is to say any boundary fence was historically installed in the correct intended place and hasn't migrated during replacements over the years.

    An example is where the legal boundary is originally formed at a hedge root but one of the neighbours subsequently installs a fence beside the hedge for added security or to contain pets or livestock. The hedge may deteriorate over the years and leave only the fence which sits at a distance within the legal boundary line.

    .. or in conveyances or transfers - The legal boundary position is supposed to be defined in the conveyancing deed and related deed plan. But, like most agreements, be they deeds or contracts, any dispute must be resolved between the parties (as applicable within the terms of the agreement) or by application to a Court for its determination.

    The deed plan might be a rough sketch of little value, the definition in the deed may be ambiguous or insufficient, may not even have legal standing, is generally subject to legal interpretation and legal argument and may conflict with other documented fact and intention including the neighbour's conveyancing plan or previous interpretation by the parties.

    For many land owners, the legal boundary between two properties is not actually defined in law and is assumed by the mutual consent of the two neighbours. The legal boundary is only determined in law when a dispute arises and it is tested in Court. Hence the Land Registry quote above about determination only by the court.

    Boundary Agreements

    However, you don't necessarily have to defer to the Court. Note their 'if disputed' predicate. You can agree it between yourselves - see Land Registry guidance note on Boundary Agreements.

    Indeed, if you agree it between yourselves, you can in fact use the General Boundary line on the Title Plan by mutual agreement. In rural areas and where no other suitable definition exists in deed or from investigation of use, that may be a reasonable failsafe.

    But this does not justify a neighbour who is arguing over a foot or two in an urban garden based solely on a Title Plan.

    To formalise an agreement, you can make an application to the Land Registry to file the agreement against the respective Titles.

    Registering a Boundary Agreement

    Once a legal boundary is explicitly agreed, neighbours can make a joint submission to the Land Registry, called an AP1.

    This can include a simple written agreement between the two parties as to the position of the legal boundary.

    This will be filed with Title and, whilst it does not determine the legal boundary, it would appear in any future Title Search and also might serve to show intention in any future dispute without the need to source witness statements from previous owners.

    Registering a Determined Boundary

    A Determined Boundary (DB) application can be made to show the exact line of the boundary with supporting evidence.

    This application is also supported by a plan, certified by a Land Surveyor to 10mm accuracy, which shows the exact position of the legal boundary with dimensions and/or absolute Ordnance Survey grid co-ordinates. If the application is successful, this is filed with the Title and effectively promotes the General Boundary to a Determined Boundary.

    This avoids escalation to Court proceedings but the Determined Boundary application must be approved by both neighbours.

    Transfer of Land

    Sometimes an agreement may be reached which includes the transfer of part of a neighbour's land to the other neighbour.

    This is applicable where the agreed/determined boundary diverts considerably from the General Boundary line. Another example might be, for instance, where land is considered by one party to be encroached by the other party and the matter is settled by the other party purchasing an area extending beyond this to an agreed point at a mutually agreeable price. Thus, the position of the disputed boundary is not actually agreed at all as it becomes mute.

    Transfer of part of a Title can be done with a TP1 application to the Land Registry. This is supported by a compliant plan, usually somewhat simpler than a certified Determined Boundary plan, which illustrates the part of the existing Title to be transferred.

    Legal Advisor

    With concerns or disputes over boundaries, in the first instance it might be best to appoint a firm of solicitors with experience in boundary disputes, especially if your neighbour is contacting you through their solicitor.

    Appointing a legal advisor should not commit you to a path to Court. They might advise and assist with different approaches including Alternative Dispute Resolution such as mediation and adjudication.

    Some house insurance policies include legal support when a neighbour instigates a boundary dispute. So, the legal advice and supporting services may effectively cost you nothing.

    Matters might be resolved without the need for a land surveyor, for instance by reliance on adverse possession supported by witness statements of previous landowners.

    The solicitor may recommend commissioning certain land survey services, if they feel it is appropriate to your situation.

    They might recommend the commissioning of a boundary expert either as an Adjudicator to the dispute, or to make an assessment and then negotiate with the neighbour's own expert (meeting of experts) to form a mutual consensus of opinion or to support your case with testimony as an expert witness in Court proceedings.

    The Courts and Expert Witness

    Ultimately, if neighbours remain in a dispute, it may escalate to Court where the Court makes the decision for them by legal interpretation based on case law.

    The Court may hear, from each neighbour's expert, an educated opinion as to the true position of the legal boundary, to support their legal argument. This opinion would be painstakingly and expertly formed from the expert's interpretation of the deed of conveyance, conveyance plans, historical photographs/maps, witness evidence, measurement of the land, historical treatment (implied intention or agreement) and other information as applicable. The Court may also appoint a single, joint witness.

    There may be complexities in the priority, reliability and legal standing of various supporting evidence. Note that even the deed plan may not be admissible (unless, for instance, the specific content is referred to in the text of the deed itself) and is subject to legal interpretation.

    Other factors can affect the Court's findings such as the law of Adverse Possession where, under certain circumstances, a party can claim land which has been enclosed to them exclusively for a minimum period of time without licence or complaint.

    How Can Offington Land Surveys Help You

    We can provide only Technical Services at your discretion with factual information to inform you and help to document or formalise any agreement, such as to:

    undertake a precise land survey of features on the ground as they exist now;

    overlay Title Plans directly to our precise survey for comparison;

    overlay historical Ordnance Survey maps directly to our precise survey for comparison;

    transpose historical conveyancing plans (may be subject to interpretation) for comparison;

    stake out the General Boundary line on the ground for reference or review;

    prepare descriptive wording for an agreement to be used in an AP1 application;

    prepare a certified plan to support your Determined Boundary (DB) application; and

    prepare a compliant plan to support your TP1 application for transfer of Land.

    However, we do not profess to be legal experts, licenced conveyancers, boundary experts or dispute resolution experts. So, we can't provide legal or expert services such as:

    Providing Legal Advice or Recommendation as to likely Court Findings;

    Making Land Registry applications (e.g. TP1/DB/AP1) as we are not licenced conveyancers or solicitors;

    Mediation;

    Adjudication;

    Give an expert opinion of the legal boundary position;;

    Write CPR(Civil Procedure Rules) compliant Court Expert Witness Reports; or

    Give Court Expert Witness Testimony.

    As such, there are limitations as to when and how far we can help you with your dispute.

    Before calling us, it is worth considering that any technical services we provide might not be directly useful in your situation. Also, you may eventually need to escalate to a boundary expert witness who can support you in Court and who might prefer to undertake the technical services in-house rather than rely on another Surveyor's work.

    RICS Boundary Expert Directory

    The RICS have a website where you can search their membership for local surveyors.

    You can filter the type of service you require, e.g. Boundary Issues, Dispute Resolution or Expert Witness as may be applicable to your requirements.

    Notes

    * Boundary Expertise is one of 23 technical proficiencies open to, but not mandatory to, Land Survey practitioners. By way of illustration, MRICS qualification in Geomatics (Land Surveying) requires 3 of the 23 technical competencies to be demonstrated with reasoned advice & depth of technical knowledge and with 4 technical competencies demonstrated with application of knowledge and understanding, leaving a great deal of scope for specialism within the Land Survey profession.

    ** Land Registry add their own General Boundary lines to the Title Plan when a new boundary does not coincide approximately with an Ordnance Survey map line, albeit, by our interpretation, the accuracy of those lines may be compromised by the accuracy of other OS map lines to which they are inherently related/connected.