Clarity of documentation in conveyances is essential if the risk of future litigation over boundaries is to be prevented, as a recent case shows. It featured a poorly-drafted plan and a refusal to compromise by two neighbours over where the boundary between their properties lies…and ended up in the Court of Appeal.
The dispute arose because there was a brook and a fence that were close to one another. One owner claimed the fence was the boundary whereas the other held that the brook divided the properties. The properties had grown by acquisition over time and one had been in the hands of the same family for many years and its title was not registered at the Land Registry: these factors made the position even less clear.
The map accompanying the conveyance was unclear – it merely showed a wavy line which represented the stream. The fence was not shown on the plan. However, because the fence was in situ when the land was conveyed, Lord Justice Mummery ruled that it marked the boundary between the properties. When giving his judgment, he was highly critical of the inability of the neighbours to compromise and of the resultant costs for the loser of the dispute.
The judge in the original case commented to one of the owners that she was from a country family herself, which led to allegations of prejudice from the other property owner.
As is not uncommon, the costs of the lengthy legal action are many times the value of the land in question.