Boundaries and Irish Law

The non-conclusive Property Registration System found its roots back in 1876. The English attempted to implement a cadastral system in 1864, whereby land boundaries would be mapped and recorded accurately. This caused so much consternation amongst landowners that the general boundaries rule was implemented as a means of loosely recording boundaries for the purposes of registering ownership of property in Ireland.

Where is my boundary? On the Land Registry website/ FAQ section. “I have a dispute with my neighbour over where the boundary lies. Can you tell me who is right? No. The Land Registry map is an index map and identifies the property, not boundaries. Therefore, we are not in a positionto advise.”

No state guarantee; Within the non-conclusive boundary system, our boundaries are not guaranteed by the state. For example, your neighbour erects a fence 20 feet into your land, you come out and destroy the fence. Your neighbour calls the Gardai, and they caution you for criminally damaging the fence, and they will say nothing to your neighbour for grabbing your land. We live in a state which has no punishment for Land Theft.

Squatter’s rights; Otherwise known as adverse possession, this pertains to the occupation of land against the interest of the registered owner. If your neighbour builds a fence on your land and uses the ground as it were his own for a period of 12 years or more, he may be able to a legal claim on that land. The legal onus is on the landowner to prevent wilful encroachment on his property. Failure to do this may result in the loss of title over the affected land.

Repossession of squatted land: This is not to be taken lightly. Careful consideration should be given to your approach to this and all actions should be extremely measured in temperament. First, get a professional Surveyor’s opinion on where the boundary actually lies and if there is encroachment, then ask your solicitor to write a letter to the adverse

Easements; A most commonly used easement is one that permits underground services of one property (dominant tenement) to pass beneath the land of another property (servient tenement). Right of way, right to light and right of support are all further examples of easements.

Causes Of Boundary Disputes

There are a number of factors that may be at the root cause of a boundary dispute. There may be a legal argument as to whether adverse possession or certain legal presumptions may apply. It may also boil down to inadequate mapping to define the boundary position in the first place. While a professional Surveyor may be very helpful at the initial stages in giving his professional opinion as to where the boundary lies.

Developers’ scheme map: Before a housing estate is constructed, the developer must submit a planning application showing the proposed position of houses, roads, fence lines, services etc. During construction, it is commonplace that the actual constructed position of fence lines may not match the proposed position of fence lines as per the planning application. However, it is common practice by some developers to submit the planning drawing as the scheme map for Land Registration purposes, which may not accurately represent the position of fence lines between neighbouring properties.

Public perception of Land Registry maps would suggest that the LandRegistry inside face of the red line is the precise location of their boundary. This is a very logical assumption and the explanation to counter this understanding that the Land Registry map is only an index map, not showing the extent of ownership or boundaries, which understandably lacks logic to the layperson.

No concept of land theft: In Irish Law, there is no concept of land theft. Your car may be stolen, or even the topsoil may be stolen from your land, but there is no concept in Irish law of land being stolen. There also exists no deterrent to Squatters; a squatter may occupy land and, after 12 years of uninterrupted occupation, may apply to legally register that land in their name. If the squatter fails in his attempt to become the rightful owner, then no punishment in the form of a fine or prison sentence is given out to the squatter.

Greed: A new neighbour moves in next door, and he notices that the actual fence position is closer to his house than his Land Registry filed plan shows. Instead of accepting the situation on the ground, which he was shown at the time of viewing prior to purchase, he lays claim to the land beyond his fence by writing to his next-door neighbour through his solicitor, asking for the return of “his” land.

Caught for space: A landowner who plans to build an extension, house or driveway on his land discovers a lack of space. This landowner may fabricate a pseudo boundary dispute just to gain the space to facilitate his development.

Personalities In A Boundary Dispute

The neighbouring bully refuses to see any other point of view except his own and will refuse to negotiate. They will want their own way, full stop. This type of neighbour will try to instill fear and quickly inform you of all the bad things that will happen to you if you don’t concede to their demands.

The first thing to do here is to present the bully with an irrefutable surveyor’s report to show that you are in the right, then sit back with the unperturbed air of a professional poker player.

The poker player is usually the neighbour with the weakest boundary case is generally the biggest bluffer. Raising the stakes is a classic tactic to get the neighbour with the strongest case to acquiesce, which is understandable, as nobody wants to spend tens of thousands in a court of law.

However, a showing of hands is the best way to get off the merry-go-round of escalating costs and exchanging Surveyors reports at this stage would be a good move to bring the game to a close.

Another way to close the game early is to suggest to your neighbour that your respective Surveyors should meet and agree on the boundary, which will be binding for both parties.

The quiet neighbour will accept encroachment/ the demands of their neighbour for the sake of a quiet and hassle-free life. On an emotional level and financial level, this makes a lot of sense. However, if pickings are that easy it is quite likely that your neighbour will be back for a second bite of the pie.

The justified neighbour has a very strong sense of what is right and wrong, and often they will stubbornly see their situation in black and white terms. They know exactly where their boundary is, and refuses to quit until they see that justice is done. A Judge may or not uphold the justified neighbour’s boundary position but will certainly cost a lot of money in the process of making that judgement.

Negotiating neighbours are the best type of neighbours. Negotiating is the best way to settle a boundary dispute quickly and cheaply. A negotiator will firstly establish precisely what the problem is and where it came from.

This can be easily done by asking your Surveyor to compile a boundary discrepancies map. This will show the legal folio position of your boundary versus its actual position.

Your Surveyor will also help you to understand the root of the problem.

Once in a position of understanding the problem, the negotiator can make an opening offer to their neighbour and the process of negotiation starts. The objective is to arrive at a settlement which both parties can accept. This is the best way to resolve a boundary dispute; unfortunately, this is not always possible.


“Baseline, they always ring you back. Knowing what is happening is always important.”

Coleman Brothers – Michael A. Coleman (Managing Director)


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