A general boundary is an imaginary line dividing one person’s property from another. It is often identified on the ground by a fence. However, it is rarely identified with precision in legal documents.
- the boundary of a registered estate shown for the purposes of the title register is a general boundary, unless shown as determined under Section 60 of the Land Registration Act 2002.
- a general boundary does not determine the exact line of the boundary
General boundaries rule
All boundaries shown on title plans which are produced by the Land Registry are subject to the general boundaries rule. This rule means that the precise line of a boundary is undetermined by the Land Registry unless an application is made for it to be fixed. Case law has emphasised that the boundary line on a title plan is just a general boundary and cannot show the precise boundary between two properties.
In some case measurements which have been taken from deeds when the land was registered can be used to update the register. If a plan is taken from an ordnance survey map the boundary line is taken to be the centre line of any boundary feature e.g. a fence or a hedge.
Physical and legal boundaries (not always the same)
A boundary can be physical or legal. A physical boundary is a feature that can be seen which marks out a legal boundary. This could be a natural feature such as a stream or river or a manmade feature such as a wall or fence that has been erected to mark a boundary. The fact that a physical feature is followed does not indicate who it is owned by or whether the boundary shown runs on one side or down the middle.
It is assumed where properties are divided by a hedge that the boundary is along the opposite edge of the ditch from the hedge or bank unless the ditch is man-made or there are two ditches either side of the hedge.
Where is the boundary line?
The description of a ‘plot’ of land should be satisfactorily described in the title deeds or original transfer document and should be sufficient to allow the extent of the property to be determined, but there may be discrepancies between the description used in the document and the plan.
A plan is sometimes referred to in the deeds as being ‘for the purposes of identification only’. If so, it cannot be relied upon as delineating the exact boundaries of the property—in any event the lines on plans are usually too thick to show a true boundary. Therefore if the description states ‘the plan is for identification purposes only’, the description will be the deciding document not the plan.
If the property is described as ‘more particularly described in the attached title plan’ then the title plan will be the determining document.
Determining a boundary
If there is a dispute over a position of a boundary and it is clear from the title deeds where the boundary lies, the title deeds cannot be challenged.
Where there is a boundary dispute and the title deeds are not clear, extrinsic evidence may be used to established the boundary. This may include:
- past statutory declarations or witness statements
- physical features of the property boundary on the site, i.e. long-standing fences or hedges
- historic maps
- old abstracts of title
- sale particulars or photographs from estate agents
Practical points when buying
A solicitor will review the title plan and any other plans supplied to ensure that any plans or descriptions of the property are clear, consistent and conclusive. However, a solicitor will not attend the property to ensure the plans provided correspond with the actual and physical boundaries. This must be done by the buyer.
If the exact extent of the boundary is not shown and it is unclear, it may be necessary for the selling owner to propose where the boundary is and apply to the Land Registry for determination. Where possible, the boundaries should be agreed between all relevant neighbours to avoid future conflict. There may be new or changed physical features that interrupt the original boundary or change its course.
It has been suggested in case law (Zarb) a buyer cannot assume that a boundary dispute has gone away, even if the seller confirms this in replies to enquiries. It is therefore advised that a buyer should seek to determine the position of boundaries prior to exchanging contracts on a purchase. Failure to do so could result in multiple problems later on, including the additional costs and the realisation you own less land than you paid for.