2017-05-17 

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Resolving Boundary Disputes on the Farm

Boundary disputes can be one of the most time-consuming and emotionally fraught experiences that farm owners may deal with. If you end up in court they are often expensive – so finding an amicable solution is recommended.

Julie Liddle, director of rural chartered surveyors Robson & Liddle looks at the options.

It is important to understand that the boundary line on the Land Registry title is often not compelling evidence of where the real boundary is located. A physical boundary and a legal boundary can be different things.

Landscape

A Land Registry plan is only a ‘general boundary’ and does not reflect the exact border between two areas of land. To establish where the actual boundary is, you must consider a range of facts contained in your title deeds as well as those of your neighbour.

Where matters cannot be agreed, evidence must be supplemented from other sources. This includes physical features on the subject area, historic maps, adjoining property deeds, intentions of the parties, etc.

When you think about it inaccurate plans submitted for registration, such as an ‘approximate’ boundary or a thickly drawn line, can cause no end of trouble into the future. Earlier versions of Ordnance Survey plans can also cause issue when matters on the ground subsequently change. The rules on submission of plans to the Land Registry have changed but still need careful attention.

Of course, the most inexpensive way of resolving a dispute is talking to your neighbour direct to reach an amicable agreement on the location of the boundary. If you can come to an agreement you can formally register it with the Land Registry.

If it is not possible to reach an agreed settlement, there are several methods of dispute settlement you could pursue before the matter escalates to court. These include:

1.  Mediation

This process involves a neutral third party bringing the two sides together to discuss their issue in an informal setting. Mediators are not legal advisers or judges and the process is not legally binding. This only happens when a resolution is reached and a written agreement signed.

2.  Expert witness determination

This approach requires the two neighbours to jointly appoint an independent professional expert – for example, a qualified rural surveyor – and agree that his or her decision will be legally binding if both parties agree it should be. A site visit by a specialist rural surveyor sometimes reveals evidence of where the actual boundary is located on the ground. Examples of this type of evidence include old fence posts, hidden ditches, small streams and tree-lines.

3.  Arbitration

This is a formal process in which an arbitrator’s role is like that of a judge. His or her decision is based on evidence submitted by both sides and the arbitrator’s award is legally enforceable. Arbitration costs tend to be higher than mediation and expert witness, although arbitration remains an effective method of resolving a dispute without escalation into a courtroom battle.

4.  Taking it legal

If none of these options are open to you, and the other the party in the dispute is not willing to engage, then sometimes the only option is to appoint a solicitor to represent you.

You should look to instruct a specialist solicitor with proven experience in representing farmers and landowners in boundary disputes. He or she will consider the full range of facts relating to your case before advising you on the most suitable legal remedy.

If all further attempts at an amicable resolution fail, you can ask a judge to rule on your case. He or she will look at the historic deeds and may require further evidence from boundary experts and witnesses who have lived or worked in the area over a long period.

Although you are entitled to go to court, the process is expensive, lengthy, and its adversarial nature means it is unlikely to result in good relations after the event.

Robson & Liddle

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