A question we are asked on a regular basis is: –

“Who owns this boundary?”

A few months ago, we had exceptionally high winds and I had three clients who phoned me the next day to ask this question because their fences had blown over.

The starting point is to look at the title details.   Sometimes there is a clause in a document declaring who owns a particular boundary. Sometimes a plan on a document contains “T” marks which, again, indicate which property has responsibility for the boundaries.  If two properties are divided by a boundary hedge fence or wall, it can be important to know who owns it and thus who is responsible for repairing or reinstating it.

If it is the case of a fence blowing over, the cost of repairing or replacing it would be relatively small.  However, there are situations where the costs could be considerable.  For instance, the boundary between two properties could be a large retaining wall where the ground levels of the two properties are different. In this instance, the cost of reinstatement could be many thousands of pounds.

The unfortunate fact is, however, that very often the legal documents do not give any indication as to which property owns a particular boundary structure.

One is then left having to ask the client a few further questions.  The first question would be to ascertain which “side” has spent money maintaining the boundary structures in the past?  The next question would be whether both sides have contributed to the maintenance of a particular boundary structure?

Sometimes a search `on the ground’ will help and you can sometimes find old post wire or fence posts grown into a hedge or planting along a boundary.   The likelihood is that the fence or the post line will be the true legal boundary rather than the hedge or the planting.

It can turn out that neither “side” has spent money on maintaining a boundary structure.  Where nobody knows who is responsible, there are certain common law presumptions which then come into play.

For instance, if the fence and the posts are on one side, the presumption is the property on the side of the posts owns the fence.   A similar presumption applies where there is a wall with buttresses on one side. Where a boundary consists of a hedge with a ditch on one side of it (usually between fields), the presumption is the owner of the side with the ditch owns the boundary.

This article has been concerned with how one ascertains boundary ownership and who is responsible for maintaining a particular boundary structure.  If you have any questions or queries on your own boundaries, please do get in touch and we will be happy to help.  Sometimes, a check where we can or prompt initial advice if an issue does crop up can avoid difficulty `down the line’ and avoid potentially expensive disputes with neighbours that can occur from time to time.

For further information, please contact David Wheaton on 01395 577061 or email [email protected].

WBW Solicitors has offices in AxminsterBovey TraceyBrixhamChardExeterExmouthHonitonLauncestonNewton AbbotPaigntonSeatonSidmouth, and Torquay.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.