By Probate Property Conveyancing Solicitor Victoria Leech
In English & Welsh Property Law there are two types of boundary: the legal boundary and the physical boundary. The legal boundary is simply a line on a plan or a description of the area which divides one property from another. The physical boundary is any structure or barrier which separates one property from another such as a fence, wall or hedge.
If your property is registered, the Land Registry will have a plan of the property which will show the general positions of the boundaries. The Land Registry relies on Ordnance Survey maps to produce their plans, but the plans do not accurately represent the true position of the boundary on the ground. Physical boundaries can alter over time, for example new fences put up which are not exactly where the original ones were, or water courses that have altered over the time.
If your property is unregistered then there should be a plan in a conveyance defining the boundaries. If there is no plan then you need to look for the description of the property in the deeds to see if it is accurate enough to establish the extent of the land concerned. If there is some doubt as to the area concerned then a surveyor may be required to produce a plan for the Land Registry in order to register the property.
There is no law which states who owns which side of a boundary. The way to find out who is responsible for maintaining a boundary is to check the Title Deeds to the property. There may be an obligation in the deeds which states who should maintain it. For registered titles this may be shown as a "T" symbol on the title plan, but unless the Title Deeds refer to the "T" on the plan it has no force in law.
If the deeds are silent on boundaries then neither party is under a duty to erect any form of structure or barrier to show where one property ends or another begins. Also if there is a barrier/structure it's best to regard it as a party boundary – whereby adjoining neighbours are responsible for maintenance, but both must agree to any work to be done.
If the deeds are clear on who owns and is responsible for the boundary, the other neighbours have no rights over the physical structure denoting the boundary. For example, the neighbour would have no automatic right to attach a trellis or use it to support trailing plants without the owner's permission. That said the owner of the barrier is under a duty to make sure that the barrier is sufficiently well maintained so as not to injure or damage the neighbours or their property.
If the fence is jointly owned, each neighbour can use it for support, provided neither makes it unsafe.
Alternatively the deeds may detail restrictions that prevent you from putting up any form of structure/barrier or limit the type of materials you can use.
It would be wise in any event that you check with your neighbours if you intend to do any work on your boundaries as boundary disputes can lead to stressful confrontations, or in worst case scenarios a lengthy and expensive legal dispute.