Being clear on where the boundaries of your plot are, helps you to be sure that you’re acting legally, to know your rights, and hopefully avoid lengthy disputes with your neighbours. As part of this, you also need to be aware of your responsibilities under the Party Wall Act.
Unfortunately, working out where your legal boundaries are isn’t as easy as it sounds. This is because the various sources that show them might mislead you about where they are.
Here are the most common sources of boundary information and what to be aware of:
These are the official boundaries. They dictate your rights and those of your neighbours. They are what’s shown on the plan that accompanies the deeds to your house. They are the only ones that really matter if a dispute ends in litigation. Sometimes exact measurements are given which helps to clear up uncertainty. If you don't have measurements, even the thickness of lines on the plan can cause disagreements about where the boundary is.
On some plans, T-shapes will be marked along the boundary lines. If the shapes are on your side, then you own whatever marks that boundary, whether it’s a wall, hedge or something else.
These are the physical barriers or demarcations that you can see when looking at your plot. Things like hedges, fences and walls count as physical boundaries. Without consulting your deeds, you can’t be sure where your actual legal boundary is in relation to them. Do you own the hedge or does your neighbour? Is your boundary actually somewhere in the middle of it or off to one side? It’s never safe to assume.
These are the boundaries according to the plan drawn up by the estate agent selling the plot. It’s very important that you cross reference these with the legal deeds. Check that what you think you’re buying is actually what you’ll receive! The owner might only be selling a portion of the land shown on the deeds. If this is the case, you need to make sure you understand their intentions.
Boundaries and planning permission
It is not the responsibility of your local planning department to check that you’re building within your legal boundary. They view boundary disputes as a private matter between neighbours. They are only concerned with the impact your property could have on your neighbours, for example their privacy, access to light and on the structural stability of their house.
It’s up to you to make sure that your proposed building doesn’t cross or overhang your legal boundary. Just because you have planning permission for a certain area, it may not be yours to legally build on. Planning consent will not protect you from a dispute brought on by a neighbour, which could halt your build and be extremely expensive.
Planning applications can be another source of boundary confusion. The borderlines of the area with consent are drawn in red on the site plan. This is based on ordnance survey maps at 1:2500 or 1:1250 scale. This thick line along with the scale of the plan could be misleading about where the boundaries are. If the site has detailed planning permission, you may benefit from a 1:500 or 1:200 scale layout diagram, which could offer a clearer picture. Comparing all other boundary drawings with the original deeds, is still the best way to be certain.
The Party Wall Act
The Party Wall Act (1996) outlines your responsibilities when building on or near a shared boundary. The act is intended to make construction easier and to stop disputes from getting out of hand. It sets out requirements for how and when neighbours have to notify each other of proposed work. It also imposes a legal framework for disputes, so that they can be addressed cleanly and quickly.
The act covers any building work at or across a party wall or a party structure, such as floors between flats. It also covers work that requires excavation deeper than a neighbour’s foundations. This rule applies if the work is within three metres of their house, or six metres in the case of work that would intersect with a line drawn downwards at 45 degrees from their foundations. It also sets out the circumstances where you would need to hire a party wall surveyor.
Knowing your legal boundaries and complying with the Party Wall Act is the best way to protect your rights and to safeguard yourself against lengthy disputes which could derail your build.
If you’re unsure, why not contact Potton and get the benefit of our years of planning experience.