Lanfear v Chandler

 

The Message

“T” marks on a plan are not necessarily indicative of boundary ownership.

The Case

Lanfear v Chandler [20 November 2013] concerned how to resolve disparities between documentation and the position on the ground in relation to ownership of a boundary feature. 
This involved an analysis of the purpose of “T” marks commonly encountered on plans.

This case involved a boundary dispute between the Lanfears who owned No.3 and Mrs Chandler who owned No.5. A plan in the original transfers of the properties showed the boundary line with “T” marks on the No.5 side and the transfer obliged No.5’s owner to repair a fence, existing at the time, on the boundary. At issue was ownership of a thin strip of earth on that boundary. This was important because Chandler had erected a car port with supports resting on the strip and, if it did not belong to her, this would be a trespass on the Lanfears’ property and the car port would have to be removed.

The High Court decided that the strip belonged to No.3 and considered that any inferences to be drawn from the use of the “T” marks on the transfer plan were effectively countered by the position on the ground.

Title to the strip turned on the true construction of the transfer. Chandler argued that the judge was wrong to regard the transfer as inconclusive on the boundary issue and there was nothing contradicting the clear direction in the transfer that the fence on the strip was the responsibility of No.5’s owner and, therefore, the strip belonged to No.5.

The Court of Appeal, however, agreed with the judge and decided in the Lanfears’ favour. A lack of clarity in the transfer plan or description can be resolved by reference to extrinsic evidence such as topographical features, which is part of the process of construing the transfer. The facts will determine where the balance lies between the transfer’s effect and the site features at the time.

The common practice of using “T” marks to identify the ownership of a wall or fence marking the boundary is a relevant factor in construing a transfer by reference to a plan which has such marks. Whether it determines the boundary depends on balancing it against the other relevant terms of the transfer and the features of the plan coupled, when appropriate, with evidence of the position on the ground. All those elements are relevant, but none is necessarily conclusive. The use of “T” marks does not raise a presumption of law that the boundary feature belongs to the adjoining owner indicated by the use of the marks.

Here the plan was an inaccurate representation of the position on the ground as built. The fence was in fact erected with the posts on the No.3 side of the fence and facing No.3, conventionally an indication that No.3’s owners were intended to own the fence and be responsible for maintaining it.

The ambiguity between the position on site and the transfer required to be resolved by reference to the position on the ground as it would have appeared to the reasonable layperson when the house was first sold. They would be much more likely to conclude that the fence and, therefore, the strip belonged to No.3. So it appears that Chandler must remove the car port.