Last edited 16 May 2018

Responsibility for boundary features

Boundary features are structures that separate one property from another. This may include a fence, wall, hedge, ditch or some other feature such as a wire or even a change in the landscape such as the edge of paving.

Boundary features can be a source of conflict, as they may straddle both properties, and there may be dispute about the condition of the boundary feature, its position or responsibility for it. Despite this, there is no specific law defining who owns boundary features. It is sometimes believed that a property owner is always responsible for the boundary features on the left of their property, but there is no legal basis for this.

Property deeds may include agreements about ownership of, or responsibility for, boundaries, although these do not generally give any great detail, and are not always clear or accurate.

Title drawings may include T marks or H marks. In this case, T marks appear on the side of the party responsible for the boundary. H marks (that is, T marks on both sides of the boundary) indicate there is joint responsibility.

However, even where there is such documentation, the position on the ground may have changed, making it unclear where the boundary is now, or who is responsible for a boundary feature. For example, neighbours may have both erected fences within their own property, but then one of them may have taken theirs down – giving the impression that the boundary is now running along the line of the remaining fence.

Other presumptions can be made. For example that fence posts, or wall piers are on the side of the party that is not responsible for it, as the owner is likely to prefer the 'clean' side. This may generally be true, but it need not necessarily be the case.

If a new boundary structure has been erected, it might be presumed that it is within the land of the party that erected it, and that they are responsible for maintaining it.

If the position is not clear, the most sensible course of action is to discuss it with the neighbour and try to reach agreement. It is then possible to draft a boundary agreement with the neighbours so that the position is formalised. It may be necessary to seek the advice of as surveyor that specialises in boundary issues, or to seek legal advice to assist in drafting such an agreement.

If agreement cannot be reached, it is possible to take action in the courts, although this is not advisable.

NB: The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 grants the owner of a property the legal right to undertake certain works that might otherwise constitute trespass or nuisance, and protects the interests of adjoining owners from potentially adverse effects of such works. For more information see: Party Wall Act.

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