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propertylawyer, Solicitor
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I am starting to build a patio in our terraced house garden

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I am starting to build a patio in our terraced house garden and notice that the neighbour's fence is clearly about 30cm misplaced (to his advantage!). The fence on this side of the garden is his responsibility and he erected it before we bought the property about 15 years ago. Have we got the legal right to dismantle it? Is he obliged to move it? We will, of course, ask him politely but it would be good to have the legal position clear before we contact him. Thanks

hi John

Thank you for your question. I hope I can help you today.

The title deeds will generally be the primary source for establishing the boundary line. The parcels clause in a conveyance or transfer should describe the property with sufficient clarity to enable the extent of the property to be determined.

However, almost all Land Registry title plans are prepared under what is referred to as the "general boundaries rule".

The rule means that the exact line of the boundary of a property will be left undetermined by the Land Registry unless the application is made for the exact boundary line to be fixed. Therefore the title plan may not accurately identify the exact boundary line.

A boundary may be legal, in that it is identified in the legal documents of title, but rarely precisely, and it will not necessarily be apparent on the ground.

In a fairly recent case the judge set out a set of principles, these are:

  • Registered title filed plans usually show general boundaries rather than the exact boundary line.

  • Ordnance Survey plans are usually only a general guide to boundary features and should not be scaled up to delineate an exact boundary.

  • The starting point is the wording of the conveyance and the conveyance plan or, if the plan is stated to be definitive, guided by the plan.

  • If the conveyance is not clear then extrinsic evidence may be considered, for example, features which existed at the date of the conveyance.

  • Evidence of the parties' subsequent conduct may be relevant and admissible if it reveals what the parties intended.

  • Evidence of features after the date of the conveyance may be relevant.

  • The boundary needs to be clear rather than "fuzzy at the edges".

  • Even if the boundary is clear from the conveyance other evidence may show a different boundary as a result of adverse possession.

  • An informal boundary agreement need not be in writing as it demarcates an unclear boundary rather than operating to transfer an interest in land.

  • Boundary agreements are usually oral, but can be inferred or implied.

  • The court should have regard to what a reasonable layman would think that he was buying.

The Land Registry has prepared a practice guide which may assist you:

A boundary surveyor may be able to assist.

If after going through the steps you can establish with certainty that the boundary on the ground is indeed in the wrong place then you can approach your neighbour to see what can be done on a friendly basis. Although boundary disputes are often complex and uncertain as to the final outcome. The parties are frequently emotionally involved, making settlement of the dispute more difficult. Litigation can be complex, uncertain and expensive.

I hope my guidance set out above is helpful. Do let me know if you have any queries in respect of my comments.

Please can you accept/rate my reply.

All the best


Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Thanks for this advice. So I am correct in assuming that there is no time issue - the fact that the fence has been there for probably 20 years does not prejudice my position.
And the infringement is very clear as the demarcation line between the two attached houses is very clear and the fence is patently well within our property.
So when I talk to him (nicely) it would be correct to me to say 'I have the legal right to remove your fence, but would prefer to do so in a way that causes minimum disruption to you etc etc....'? My neighbour loves solicitors and will be sure to do his own research, so if my case is weak, then I would prefer to just keep quiet!Thanks. John

Hi John

Obviously I cannot comment on the strength of your case without undertaking a full and detailed inspection of the appropriate documentation.

The information provided is to give you an idea of what needs to be considered by you in order for you to decide on your next steps.

The neighbour may well defend his position and claim possession of the 30cm strip but there is criteria to satisfy: intention and time (10/12 years). Intention here is important.

If you decide to talk nicely rather than say 'i have the right to remove your fence ...' say instead that 'it is clear from the title plan that your fence is on my land ...'.

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