How to avoid land disputes
Vineyard owners may encounter disagreements with neighbouring residents or landowners and if such disagreements can’t be resolved amicably, they can become time consuming, costly and also sour any future relationships. Disputes can also lead to negative media coverage and vicious social media campaigns which may cause longer term damage to your brand and reputation.
Land disputes in particular can be complex to resolve. Whilst the Land Registry has a record of all registered land, unfortunately title plans don’t always accurately reflect the physical boundaries ‘on the ground’.. This can occur where plans attached to (most notably historical) title deeds may not have been mapped clearly or some of the physical features which help to identify the extent of the land and boundaries in particular could have been removed over time. Your solicitor can make an application to the Land Registry to amend or update title plans but this can be a time consuming and costly processes. There is no guarantee of success and the outcome of any such application is dependent on the documentary and other supporting evidence available, as well as the co-operation (or lack of) of any adjoining or neighbouring landowners.
Where land is unregistered or if you apply to register land you think you own only to find out someone else has registered it in their name, then it may lead to a dispute over ownership. In such circumstances, proof of ownership will be key and you should seek to locate the relevant deeds and documents proving your ownership as quickly as possible. If you realise that any of your land is currently unregistered or you think it is registered incorrectly at the Land Registry, it is strongly recommended that you seek legal advice about your options regarding first registration (in the case of unregistered land) or rectification in the case of registered land.
Ask your solicitor to check your deeds and documents to confirm what land is registered and depending on the circumstances, what options are available to you.
It is common for disputes over boundaries to be triggered when land is sold, when it is fenced, when building work is proposed or undertaken or when land ownership is transferred to a new generation.
Where a boundary is unclear or poorly marked on a title plan or old map, it is worth noting that the General Boundaries Rule may apply. To avoid a boundary dispute, it is worth in the first instance having a chat with the neighbouring landowner to try to agree the issue amicably. If the disagreement as to the exact location of the boundary is over just a few inches of land, you should seriously consider whether that is worth arguing about as the value of the land will be minimal anyway. Of course, you need to be sure that if you concede your position then it does not cause any access or other serious practical issues for you.
In situations where someone else has been using land which they don’t own, then they can apply to the Land Registry to become the registered proprietor of the land if they can prove:
- They had uninterrupted factual possession of the land for 10 years under the Land Registration Act 2002 (which applies to registered land) or 12 years under the old regime which applies to unregistered land and registered land where the period of possession ends before 13 October 2003.
- They also need to prove they had intention to possess the land during this period.
On receiving any such application, the Land Registry will contact the paper title owner of the land (if registered) and give them the opportunity to respond. However, if no decision or agreement is reached within a specified time limit (typically 6 months) then the case will be referred to the Property Tribunal.
If discussions fail to help you to reach an agreement, then expert help such as a chartered surveyor or arbitrator can help, along with alternative dispute resolution and mediation.
Catherine Lloyd comments: “Taking action to avoid a dispute is advised and where vineyards and landholdings may have been in the same family ownership for generations then checking your land is registered correctly is an excellent starting point. We are happy to advise on any issues of landownership or the options available to you where the parties have failed to reach agreement.”