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Rural Property Boundaries

When someone buys a house that is fairly normal to get a lawyer to check out the title, a building inspector to check out the construction of the house, and to obtain a LIM from Council.  One thing that people sometimes do not pay much attention to is the boundaries, and quite often this is not a problem.

However in my job we occasionally come across horror stories were someone has purchased a property and found that part of (or all) their house or garage is over the boundary and not located within the property. This can be minor were perhaps say only part of a deck is over a boundary, or more serious were a major construction is over the boundary.

A year or two ago we were involved with one landowner whose dwelling was found to be completely outside of the property boundaries. As you can imagine this sort of situation could be potentially very expensive if not impossible to rectify. Breaking the bad news to my client was not something I relished.

One of the mistakes often made is to assume that because it was a reasonably recent building consent that the house was built under, that council would have thoroughly checked out such things as the relationship of the proposed dwelling to the boundaries. This is often not the case and although in recent times councils have paid more attention to this matter, the fact that a building permit or consent has been issued gives you guarantees whatsoever.

In recent years many councils have provided a GIS service which can generate aerial photographs with boundaries overlain on them. While these have a role in indicating the general relationship of the boundaries to the buildings and other features,  the accuracy of these photographs can be quite variable This problem affects rural properties more than residential ones as the underlying survey accuracy can be much less in rural areas and the positions on council photogrammetry can be tens of metres out in some cases.

When one does find that one of the buildings is over a boundary there are options but unfortunately none of them are quick, easy or cheap. One possibility is to undertake a boundary adjustment with the neighbour whose land is being encroached on. This would require the affected landowner to have sufficient sympathy with your situation and/or have the desire to sell his land to you. This would generally require a resource consent from Council and attract many of the costs associated with a subdivision (such as lawyers, council application fees and surveyors) plus the purchase of the land. Another option is apply to the courts for relief under the Property Law Act, this also can attract considerable cost.

There are cases where there is a recent survey and there are obvious boundary pegs in the ground, or perhaps there is a report on council files certifying the position of the building, or maybe the dwellings and other farm buildings are a substantial distance from neighbouring boundaries were someone purchasing a property can be reasonably confident that there is no encroachment onto neighbouring properties. However where there is doubt it would be very prudent to get advice from a surveyor.

This article is general in nature and should not be a substitute for specific advice from a suitable professional.

This article was prepared by John Cotton specialized in rural surveys.

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