Boundary surveys

As land surveyors with over 30 years of experience, we have seen our fair share of boundary disputes. These disputes can be frustrating and costly for property owners, but they can also be prevented with proper surveying and communication. In this web page, we will discuss boundary disputes from a land surveyor’s perspective and provide insights on how to avoid them.

Several title plans with distortions corrected superimposed. This helps to identify any correlations and or discrepancies
Several title plans with distortions corrected superimposed. This helps to identify any correlations and or discrepancies

What is a boundary dispute?

A boundary dispute is a disagreement between property owners over the location of a property line. This can arise due to inaccurate land registry plans, inaccurate surveying, changes to the landscape or property, or a misunderstanding of property ownership.

Causes of boundary disputes:

  • Inaccurate or outdated surveys
  • Changes to the landscape, such as natural disasters or erosion
  • Landscaping or construction that crosses property lines
  • Misunderstanding of property ownership, such as inherited property or unclear title records
  • Fences or other structures that cross property lines
Historic aerial image with title plan information overlay
Historic aerial image with title plan information overlay

How to prevent boundary disputes:

  • Get a professional survey done before purchasing or making changes to a property.
  • Maintain clear and accurate property records and titles.
  • Communicate with neighbours about property lines and any changes that may affect them.
  • Avoid making assumptions about property ownership or boundaries.
Historic aerial image with boundary and verification survey overlay
Historic aerial image with boundary and verification survey overlay

What to do if you are involved in a boundary dispute:

  • Gather all relevant documents and records, including surveys, titles, and any correspondence with neighbours.
  • Communicate with the other party and try to come to a resolution. This is far cheaper than going to court
  • Consider mediation or arbitration to avoid costly legal fees and time in court. Both parties could appoint a joint surveyor to help resolve the dispute. The land registry
  • If necessary, consult with a solicitor who specializes in conveyancing and property law.

FAQ on boundary disputes:

Can boundary disputes be resolved without legal action?

Yes, in many cases, disputes can be resolved through communication and negotiation between the parties involved.

How can I find out where my property lines are?

A professional land surveyor can conduct a survey to accurately determine the boundaries of your property.

Can a boundary dispute affect my property value?

Yes, unresolved boundary disputes can lower property values and make it difficult to sell a property.

local features were surveyed and checked against title plans and aerial mapping
Boundary survey and verification data with title plan overlays

The Land Registry

The role of the Land Registry in the UK is important in both preventing and resolving boundary disputes. The Land Registry is a government agency responsible for maintaining a register of land ownership in England and Wales. In Scotland, a similar function is performed by the Registers of Scotland.

In the UK, when a property is sold or changes ownership, it is registered with the Land Registry. The Land Registry then maintains a record of the property’s ownership and boundaries. This record can be accessed by property owners, potential buyers, and surveyors to ensure that property boundaries are accurate.

The Land Registry also offers a service called “boundary determination,” which can be used to resolve disputes over property boundaries. This service involves a surveyor appointed by the Land Registry visiting the property to determine the exact location of the boundary. The Land Registry’s determination is then binding on all parties involved in the dispute.

However, the Land Registry can also be a source of disputes. In some cases, the Land Registry’s records may be incomplete or inaccurate, leading to confusion over property boundaries. Additionally, the Land Registry’s records may not reflect changes in property boundaries that have occurred over time due to natural events or human activities. Unlike in America, the Land Registry makes no attempt to verify boundaries when land is registered. Adjacent land parcels can have different boundary shapes and frequently overlap. The red line boundary the Land Registry draws upon a title plan is in practice up to 2 meters wide on the ground, in part to avoid being claimed against.

The boundary lines on the OS map aren't as accurate as you think. Title plan lines are also wider than you think
The boundary lines on the OS map aren’t as accurate as you think. Title plan lines are also wider than you think.
A landowner might reasonably expect these lines to imply something more absolute than they do in reality, hiding a multitude of sins.

In contrast to the UK, cadastral surveying in the USA is typically conducted by county or state agencies rather than a national registry. Cadastral surveys are used to establish and maintain boundaries and property ownership records. Unlike the UK, there is no single national agency responsible for cadastral surveying.

Despite these differences, both the UK and the USA recognize the importance of accurate property records and boundary surveys in preventing and resolving boundary disputes. As land surveyors with over 30 years of experience, we strongly recommend working with a professional surveyor and utilizing the resources of the Land Registry or local cadastral surveying agencies to ensure accurate property records and boundaries.

Understanding how boundaries are formed is crucial for accurate land surveying and can be particularly important in cases involving historic hedgerows and ditches. These features can provide evidence of property boundaries that may not be reflected in modern property records. As land surveyors, we often work with property owners to establish the location of boundaries using a variety of evidence, including historic records and physical features on the land.

Submitting plans to the land registry

Often, unregistered land is registered for the first time; an existing title is subdivided or altered during a sale. Your solicitor may advise getting a topographical boundary survey for this purpose. We can help provide an accurate topographical boundary survey for this purpose. The Land Registry provides guidelines for preparing plans to register land. We follow those guidelines and survey boundary lines corresponding to the Ordnance Survey lines, verify their accuracy and produce suitable plans for submission to the Land Registry.

boundary topographical survey for the subdivision of land or transfer of land

The Ordnance Survey

It is also important to understand how Ordnance Survey (OS) maps are created and the limitations of the data they provide. OS maps are generated from multiple sources, including aerial photography, field surveys, and satellite data. While these methods can provide accurate data, they can also result in inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the linework on the maps.

For example, features such as hedgerows and ditches may not be accurately represented on OS maps due to the limitations of the data collection methods. If a build has been surveyed from the air at a high altitude then the line probably denotes the edge of the roof, not the building corners. Fences surveyed from the air may be more reliable if clearly observed but unreliable when passing under trees. Additionally, changes to the landscape, such as erosion or new construction, may not be reflected on the maps in a timely manner.

Survey plottable accuracy of 1mm and 0.5mm on a printed plan at various scales:

Scale

1:100
1:200
1:500
1:1,250
1:2,500
1:10,000

1mm on ground:

100mm
200mm
500mm
1250mm
2500mm
10000mm

0.5mm on ground:

50mm
100mm
250mm
750mm
1250mm
5000mm

OS plan accuracy

As 1:1250


400mm over 60m
1200mm over 200m
3500mm over 500m

OS maps are flattened projections of the curved earth’s surface onto a flat map. This means distances on a map between two points aren’t the same as they physically are on the ground. Understanding this scale factor is even more important on larger sites but could have a bearing on a smaller site. In the past, we have seen neighbours argue about the 20mm bulge in a fence gravel board.

As a result, it is important to use OS maps in conjunction with other sources of information, such as property records and physical surveys, to establish the location of property boundaries. This can help to ensure that accurate boundary lines are established, preventing boundary disputes and costly legal fees. Often boundaries are defined by intent rather than something precise.

Drones can play a key role in data gathering for a boundary dispute

Drones are a great tool to gather topographical survey data. For a boundary survey, this can mean gathering comparable off-site data quickly and easily in places that couldn’t previously be measured. This is especially true where access to neighbouring land is not possible, dangerous or difficult. Having sufficient off-site information away from the area of dispute is important when comparing different data sources and eliminating errors in historical data. Read more about the 6 reasons why a drone land survey is a good idea.

A drone survey can gather more off-site data than a traditional which can be important in a boundary dispute
A drone survey can gather more off-site data than a traditional survey which can be important in a boundary dispute

When considering using drones it is important that the survey is carried out accurately. Failure to ensure no extra errors are introduced can compromise the whole project. At Crucial Services we have the correct approach and use the best technology to ensure our drone surveys are demonstrably fit for purpose. Many drone pilots can make similar surveys but without the same experience or the rigorous approach required.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, understanding how boundaries are formed and the limitations of Ordnance Survey maps are crucial for accurate land surveying and establishing property boundaries. By using a variety of evidence and working with property owners to establish boundaries, land surveyors can help prevent boundary disputes and ensure the accurate transfer of property ownership.

It is always a good idea to collaborate with your neighbours and agree on a common boundary position where a boundary dispute has or could arise. Get that boundary surveyed and get title plans adjusted to avoid further disputes. A firm of solicitors experienced in boundary issues can help with some of these issues.

Boundary disputes can be costly and frustrating for property owners, but they can be prevented with proper surveying and communication. If you are involved in a boundary dispute, gather all relevant documents and consider seeking legal advice. As land surveyors, we strongly recommend getting a professional survey done before making any changes to a property to avoid future disputes. You should contact a firm of solicitors experienced in boundary disputes for legal advice.