If you’ve recently bought a property with a plot of land, whether large or small, more often than not the boundaries of that property will be marked out either by a fence or a hedgerow.

In order to avoid potential problems and disputes further down the line, it is highly recommended to officially define the borders of your property (borner le terrain).

One common occurrence is that a neighbour will contest ownership of a certain part of a boundary area by, for example, removing or trimming a hedge or tree that they believe is on their land. If a large tree is involved, for example, which infringes on a neighbour's property and you cannot prove that the tree is on your land, you cannot contest it being pulled down.

What is ‘bornage’?

Bornage is the French term for establishing the borders of a plot of land and refers to definitively establishing the border between two or more private properties. If your property borders publicly owned land, i.e. a public footpath or forest, then the rules are different: you would then need to ask the local authority concerned to perform the bornage and establish the exact boundary area.

Is it compulsory to legally establish the borders of your property?

No, bornage is not compulsory, but is strongly advised because the exact borders rarely feature in the deeds of the property, which will usually just refer to individual parcels in the cadastral plan and what they contain. Furthermore, the cadastral plan is not proof of ownership. In the case of a dispute, you cannot use the images on the cadastral plan to contest ownership with a neighbour.

Who can request bornage?

Only the owner may make a request to establish the borders of a property. A tenant, for example a farmer who rents a field for agricultural purposes, cannot instigate a request.

All parties concerned must be in agreement in order to establish the borders of two properties. If a property has joint owners, for example, both must be in agreement.

Two types of bornage: amicable and judicial

Amicable bornage:

If you acquire a property and are not 100% sure of the exact boundaries, it is strongly advised that you draw up an amicable bornage with your neighbour. You must first ask your neighbour or neighbours if they are happy to do so. A document is then written detailing the agreement reached by the property owners involved. The law does not require this document to have a specific format. In reality, this will usually involve the visit of a land surveyor who will examine the deeds of the various properties and the cadastral plan. The surveyor will then establish a verbal agreement between the parties and place boundary markers into the ground.

This agreement is then signed by all parties and sent to a notaire who will register the document with the relevant authorities i.e. the conservation des hypothèques.

Judicial bornage:
If one party refuses to enter into an amicable bornage or refuses to sign, then the only remaining option is a judicial bornage. In short, the law allows for all property owners to request their neighbours to legally establish the borders of their properties. The judge will assign a land surveyor to the case, and if one neighbour still refuses to sign the subsequent agreement, then the judge will make an independent and binding ruling. The agreement is again sent to the relevant authorities.

Who pays what?

The costs come in 2 parts: the fees of the land surveyor (who is independent) and those of the notaire (who is regulated). In the case of an amicable bornage, the charges are shared. In practice, the costs are usually shared, either 50:50 or proportional to the size of the parcels of land.

In the case of a judicial bornage, the judge is free to allocate the costs, for example he/she can assign all the costs to the neighbour who refused to sign the agreement.