Oakfield Building Chartered Surveyors

Guide to boundary wall rules

The first thing to establish with a boundary wall is whether the wall sits entirely on your property, or whether it straddles the boundary between your property and the neighbouring property. This distinction is important because it will affect the rules which apply to the wall.

Boundary walls which have been constructed on the boundary are Party Fence Walls. These are structures which do not form part of a building and sit on the boundary between the properties belonging to two different owners.

Boundary walls can be a contentious issue, sometimes being the root of lengthy disputes with neighbours. Therefore, any matters relating to boundary walls should be treated with due care.

Boundary Wall Rules
Boundary Wall Fence

What are the boundary wall rules for your land?

Regulations governing shared boundary walls are set out in the Party Wall etc Act 1996. The Party Wall Act uses the term Party Fence Walls to refer to walls built across the boundary. Boundary walls located fully within an individual property are not subject to the same boundaries rules. Fences made from timber are classified as party fences rather than party fence walls. These are treated separately and are not covered by this legislation.

Boundary Fence rules

In most circumstances, there is no legal obligation to have a fence around your land. The main exceptions to this are:

  • If you live next to a railway
  • If you have livestock which you need to prevent from wandering off your land
  • If your property Title Deeds stipulate that you must fence in your land.

If you put up a boundary fence, the footings may be positioned beneath the edge of the land belonging to the adjoining property, but the fence itself should be situated on your land. The convention is to have the outer face placed along the boundary, with the posts standing on the owner’s land.

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How are boundary walls defined in law?

A Party Fence Wall is defined as “a wall (not being part of a building) stands on lands of different owners and is used or constructed to be used for separating such adjoining lands”. For the purposes of the Party Wall Act, a party fence wall refers to a structure, a masonry wall with a foundation. Although physical boundaries may be created with a range of materials, such as fences and hedges, the Party Wall Act applies only to walls.

Shared walls which form part of a building are classified as Party Walls. The term “party fence wall” is used to differentiate between a garden boundary wall and a building boundary wall within a building or “party wall”. There are separate rules associated with different types of walls. For example, if you plan to carry out works which will impact a party wall which forms part of a building you will need to serve notice to any adjoining properties affected by the works at least two months before you plan to start the proposed works. By contrast, if your proposed work is to excavate near to a boundary wall which is a party fence wall you can give as little as one month’s notice.

How are boundary walls defined in law?

It is not always clear from Land Registry documents who owns the boundary walls to a property. A boundary wall may be in the sole ownership of one of the property owners, or it can be jointly owned.

There are some commonly held beliefs relating to boundary wall ownership, based on whether the wall is on the position of the wall in the garden. Many people mistakenly believe that every property owner has ownership of either the left or right hand side boundary. However, these are only beliefs, they have no basis in law and should not be relied upon. A property owner does not necessarily have ownership of any of the boundary walls at the edge of his property, for example, if all the walls surrounding the property have been constructed on the neighbours’ side of the boundaries.

If you need to verify ownership this should be done through the documents you can access about your property, usually associated with the Title Deeds<. If you need assistance with verifying who owns the walls on the boundary of your property, you can get professional help from a surveyor. At Oakfield Chartered Surveyors our party wall experts can provide advice and research where the property boundary is located. In many cases, this does not coincide precisely with current boundary features, particularly where these are natural, such as hedges and trees, so a simple visual check of boundaries is unlikely to reflect the exact legal boundary. The boundary position needs to be confirmed from documents relating to the property, preferably by a specialist surveyor.

If you have the plan for a fairly new property, for example on an estate of new build properties, the boundary ownership will usually be indicated with “T” marks. These marks generally show that the property owner has responsibility for the maintenance, repair and/or replacement of that boundary. However, just because a T marks point inwards to your property on the plan, this does not always mean that you own the wall. A legal case in the Court of Appeal clarified that use of the T mark on a plan does not prove or indicate ownership of a boundary wall.

If an “H” mark is shown on a plan it usually indicates that both owners share responsibility for the upkeep of the wall. If there are no T marks shown, it is standard practice to presume that the boundary wall is jointly owned.

The details of the boundaries for older properties can be harder to check. You or a surveyor will usually need to review the property’s Title Deeds and associated documents. Even these checks may prove inconclusive, as some older Title deeds are silent on the matter of boundary walls.

Boundary Walls
Property Boundary Wall
What are the boundary rules

How do you know where the boundaries are?

Since there is no legal requirement for the position of a boundary to be recorded, it is not always straightforward to identify the exact position of the boundary. This can make it even more challenging to know who is the owner of the boundary wall. It may seem frustrating, but sometimes there is simply no answer as to the boundary ownership for a property. Existing boundary features can be misleading and can reflect historic encroachment. If you and your adjoining neighbour can agree on where the boundary should lie and there is no historic documentation to contradict this, it may be worth having this boundary agreement formally recorded for future reference.

How do you know where the boundaries are?

Boundary walls may have a history of being maintained by a single owner, the neighbour or jointly. Previous maintenance of a wall does not affect the matter of ownership.

Can my neighbour use my boundary wall?

Your neighbour has the right to use a party fence wall for some purposes, provided that the terms of the Party Wall Act are followed. For most work affecting the party fence wall, you are required to give the shared owner at least one month’s notice before work is due to begin.

Changes which a neighbour or adjoining owner also has the right to make to a party fence wall:

  • Alter a party fence wall by widening, raising or underpinning it.
  • Repair or rebuild a party fence wall where this is needed due to defects or where essential repairs have not been carried out.
  • Demolish a party fence wall if it is inadequate in terms of strength, width or height, and replace it with a suitable structure which is sufficiently robust, and of adequate height and width. Demolition requires the agreement of the neighbour.

Costs are often shared by both property owners. However, if the wall is not a party fence wall, your neighbour has no right to do anything to the wall at all.

Who enforces the boundary wall rules?

The Party Walls Act provides a framework designed to avoid, where possible, or resolve disputes relating to party walls. It does not include provision which could be used for the legal settlement of a boundary line dispute. If disputes cannot be resolved through private negotiation, they may need to be resolved through the courts. If notifiable work is started and you were not served notice by the building owner, you could seek an injunction to stop the works. The stop to the works may not be permanent, but the work may have to be undertaken under certain restrictions.

Your surveyor may recommend that you make use of the Boundary Disputes Mediation Service coordinated by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), and the Property Litigation Association, with support from the Civil Justice Court.

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We are one of the leading Chartered Surveyors covering London, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire and regulated by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

Our team is dedicated to providing the highest quality building surveys.
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What to do if there is a boundary wall issue?

Residential boundaries are the cause of more disputes between neighbours than any other issue. It is important to follow the right steps to avoid issues escalating into major disputes. Although there can be issues relating to party walls in buildings, far more disputes relate to the boundaries between gardens, or party fence walls.

It is advisable to take photographs and note measurements before any work is carried out on a boundary wall. This will ensure you have a clear record of the pre-work situation, and therefore of the impact of work, should you need it.

Boundary disputes can have serious implications. For example, if you sell your house, you are legally obliged to declare any past or ongoing boundary disputes relating to the property. If you have an outstanding issue when you want to put your house on the market, you should consult a conveyancing expert first for advice on how to proceed. Avoid litigation specialists as they are more likely to focus on winning the case rather than ensuring that your property can be readily sold in future.

When you complete the TA6 Property Information Form you will need to answer several questions relating to property boundaries. You are required to provide full and accurate information about any disputes, and failure to do so could lead to litigation against you.

Professional help with your boundary matters

At Oakfield Chartered Surveyors our RICS qualified surveyors can help you with all matters relating to boundary walls. Whether you are wanting to make changes to a boundary wall, or have had notice that your neighbour has proposed changes to a boundary wall, we can support you through the process. Call the team at Oakfield today to find out more about the party wall services we offer. One of our surveyors will be happy to advise you on the best steps to take to ensure that your boundary wall issues are managed effectively to achieve a positive outcome.

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