Update on Property Boundaries (Resolution of Disputes) Bill
On 15 January 2020 (and notably before the coronavirus pandemic took hold), the first reading of the Property Boundaries (Resolution of Disputes) Bill took place in the House of Lords. The date of the second reading is yet to be announced (this may be some way away) but 15 January marked the start of its journey to Royal Assent.
Boundary disputes are often difficult, for various reasons, and their ultimate outcome can be difficult to predict. The costs are often disproportionate to the value of land in issue and the dispute is often more about personal, rather than practical or commercial issues.
That said, boundary disputes regularly occur and they are inevitably part of a property disputes lawyer’s practice. Consequently, there have been pleas for reform as to how these are dealt with.
The Property Boundaries (Resolution of Disputes) Bill seeks to introduce a whole new process. Much like the Party Wall Act, it requires surveyors to be involved from a much earlier stage. The Bill envisages one party serving a notice on the other with their understanding of the boundary line. If the party on whom the notice was served objects to this understanding, a dispute is considered to have arisen. It is at this point that a surveyor is appointed to determine the boundary. In the absence of an appeal to the High Court, within 28 days, the findings of the surveyor are treated as conclusive.
The idea is that this provides a quicker and cheaper alternative to court proceedings, without the parties still having the ability to have the matter examined by a court on appeal.
It is still up for debate whether the Bill, as drafted, will address the issues associated with boundary disputes. Many practitioners consider that as well as the physical features, consideration of historical conveyances, adverse possession and rights acquired by prescription also need detailed analysis. Legal professionals are certainly best placed to give advice in relation to these issues.
Only time will tell where the Property Boundaries (Resolution of Disputes) Bill ends up and what it will look like in its final form.