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Contract of purchase found to be binding in boundary dispute between neighbours

Case briefing

The reality is that there is more likely to be friction between neighbours if boundary lines are not clear. In many jurisdictions boundaries are defined in property contracts by reference to map extracts. However, in Jersey, boundaries are usually defined to the inch in contracts of purchase.

The Royal Court was recently faced with a boundary dispute where the boundary between the properties was clear but the neighbours argued over who had the right to the land just beyond it.

Background

The dispute features two country properties adjacent to each other. In the eighties a contract was finalised to draw a boundary line between them. That boundary line was struck along the line of boundary stones which had been planted between them. Gradually the land around the boundary stones became overgrown. Property “A” was bought in the nineties, after property “B” had been bought by its owner.

The new owners of property “A” resolved to clear the overgrown area and over time planted it with fruit trees and other shrubs. However this area was beyond the boundary line struck between boundary stones and it was evident that they were maintaining land beyond their own property and in fact on property “B”. Although the land was cleared, the boundary stones were left in place. The owner of property “B” did not complain about the planting and maintenance of the land.

Matters came to a head in 2015 when the owner of property “B” expressed her desire to take her land back.  The owner of property “A” met her; recorded their conversation without her knowledge; and tried to negotiate an agreement where she would sell her land to him. In true Jersey territorial style the approach was rebuffed. The owner of property “B” was interested in her land rather than money.

The owner of property “B” then brought an action to recover the land from the owner of property “A”. As another layer of complication to proceedings, one of the owners of property “A” was a member of the Jersey judiciary. To avoid any hint of collusion or conflict of interest, the court was therefore comprised of members of the Guernsey judiciary. 

The hearing

The action was brought on the basis that the owner of property “B” owned the land up to the line of the boundary stones in accordance with terms of her contract of purchase.

In response to the action, the owner of property “A” advanced an argument that:

  • they had invested time and money into the cultivation of the land;
  • they mistakenly believed the land in question was owned by them;
  • although they accepted that it was on land which belonged to property “B” she had allowed them to garden the land without complaint; and
  • as a result of their actions and the inaction of the other landowner, the court should declare them as owners of this land.

Under Jersey law, in order to claim title to land the person making the claim must have uninterrupted, unchallenged possession for at least 40 years. The court decided that although it was an unfortunate that the owners of property “A” had gardened the land for some years, such action (even if it was without complaint of the neighbour) could not justify a claim to the title of the land. The ownership remained with the owner of property “B”.

Moral

In making its judgment, the court relied on the terms of the contracts of purchase of properties “A” and “B”. This shows how important the terms of a contract of purchase are in any property transaction. Our property team undertakes thorough and careful checks to gather, amongst other things, exactly where your land ends and your neighbour’s begins so you know, to the inch, what will belong to you.

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