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Boundaries – the importance of being precise

19 November 2014

The recent Court of Appeal decision in Norman and another v Sparling [1] serves as reminder to both buyers and sellers to ensure that a transfer or conveyance clearly defines the extent of the land being sold.

The case

Mr and Mrs Birch owned Hebron Farm and surrounding land and gifted a parcel of land to Mr Birch’s mother. The deed described the land by reference to the length of boundaries. The boundaries were described as being shown “for identification purposes only” edged red on an attached Ordnance Survey plan.

But the measurements of the boundary between the gifted parcel and Hebron Farm were missing from the plan. To add to the ambiguity, the plan used was at such a small scale that the parcel of land was shown as less than an inch on the plan.

Subsequently, a house (known as Arnwood) was built on the gifted parcel of land and a bank was built by Mr Birch between the Arnwood and Hebron Farm.

At the time of the dispute, Arnwood was owned by Mr and Mrs Norman and Hebron Farm by Mr Sparling. Mr Sparling claimed the boundary between Arnwood and Hebron Farm was on the bottom of the bank, being the Arnwood side.

Mr and Mrs Norman claimed the boundary line was on the top of the bank, on the Hebron Farm side. Importantly, Mr and Mrs Norman gave evidence that when they acquired Arnwood, Mr Birch had placed posts along the top of the bank indicating a boundary line.

Afterwards, Mr and Mrs Norman planted shrubs on the Arnwood side of the bank, without objection.

The case was appealed to the Court of Appeal. It was held that as the boundary could not be established from the original deed, extrinsic evidence showing the actions of the original parties could be considered.

The Court of Appeal considered Mr Birch’s subsequent action was sufficient probative evidence, to hold that the top of the bank marked the boundary.

Useful reminder

Care is needed when describing the land being sold as this will be the prime basis for establishing the boundary line – in particular, whether the plan or the description will prevail.

The plan should use the Land Registry’s preferred scale and contain sufficient detail to be accurately identified on an Ordnance Survey map.

The case serves as a useful reminder of the ease in which costly disputes can arise when the boundary line between two properties is unclear, erroneous or vague.

Also, how the subsequent conduct of the parties can be used as evidence in interpreting a deed, which is an exception to the usual contractual rules.

[1] Norman and another v Sparling [2014] EWCA Civ 1152

This article was written by Claire Fallows.

For more information please contact Claire on +44 (0)20 7427 1046 or claire.fallows@crsblaw.com