*When does a physical boundary such as a fence become a legal boundary?*

When does a physical boundary such as a fence become a legal boundary?

Monday 23rd October 2023

In the UK, a physical boundary, such as a fence or a hedge, does not automatically become a legal boundary. A legal boundary is a line that divides one property from another, and its location is usually determined by the property deed or registered title held by the Land Registry.

However, over time, a physical boundary can potentially become a legal boundary through a process known as "adverse possession." This is sometimes referred to as "squatter's rights." If a person occupies a piece of land without the owner's permission for a certain period of time (usually 10 or 12 years), and if certain conditions are met, they may be able to claim ownership of that land.

It's also possible for the location of a legal boundary to be changed by agreement between the neighbouring property owners. This usually involves a formal process, including updating the property deeds and possibly the Land Registry records.

It's important to note that boundary disputes can be complex and contentious. If you're unsure about the location of a legal boundary, or if you're involved in a boundary dispute, it's a good idea to seek legal advice.

In the UK, claiming adverse possession involves a legal process that typically includes the following steps:

1. Factual Possession*: You must have factual possession of the land. This means you have been using the land as your own for a certain period of time. This could involve enclosing the land, maintaining it, or using it in a way that excludes others.

2. Intent to Possess: You must have the intention to possess the land. This means you must intend to exclude all others, including the legal owner, from the land.

3. Period of Time: You must have possessed the land continuously for a certain period of time. In England and Wales, this is typically 10 years for registered land and 12 years for unregistered land.
4. Application to the Land Registry: After the requisite period of time, you can apply to the Land Registry to be registered as the new owner. This involves completing form FR1 and form ST1 and paying a fee.

5. Notice Period: The Land Registry will then serve notice on the registered proprietor and any other interested parties. They have the opportunity to object to the application.

6. Registration: If there are no successful objections, you may be registered as the new owner of the land. However, for the first two years after registration, the original owner can apply to have the land returned if they can show they have a good reason for not having responded to the original notice.

It's important to note that claiming adverse possession can be a complex process and it's not always successful. The rules are different if the land is unregistered or if the land is registered but the possession took place before 13 October 2003.

Also, the law in this area is different in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the process described above applies to England and Wales.

Given the complexity of the law in this area, it's strongly recommended to seek legal advice if you're considering making a claim for adverse possession.


Here at Tayross, Carl is a Chartered Senior Surveyor with experience in Planning, Building, Building Surveying, Contract Administration, Project Management, Boundary Disputes and Party Wall related matters. He is happy help with any questions you may have regarding the above.

Please visit our 'contact us' page here for contact details -

Please visit our website here for more information -