Planning Information – Definition of Curtilage

The definition of a ‘curtilage’ or ‘domestic’ curtilage is usually a garden, but can include parking areas, access roads, vegetable plots, children’s play areas, and stables (where the horses are kept for pleasure rather than agricultural use). The domestic curtilage is not necessarily marked off or enclosed, but it should be clearly attached to the house or serving the purpose of the house in some useful and intimate way. When all the land surrounding a property is garden and drive, assessing the domestic curtilage is clear. It’s the boundary of the parcel of land around your house, the front, back and side gardens, usually with some sort of boundary such as a fence or a wall between your curtilage and your neighbors. It will often be indicated on the house Deeds.

The matter becomes more complex with larger plots, gardens with surrounding land that is not directly part of the garden or farm complexes where there is no distinction when the domestic curtilage ends and the agricultural land begins. Courts have provided interpretation on the factors to be taken into account in determining what constitutes a curtilage. The definition of ‘curtilage’ is given in Sinclair-Lockhart’s Trustees v Central Land Board 1950 as

“ground which is used for the comfortable enjoyment of a house…. And thereby as an integral part of the same, although it has not been marked off or enclosed in any way.  It is enough that it serves the purpose of the house… in some necessary or reasonably useful way.”                                               

It has also been held in Dyer v Dorset CC 1989 that the definition in the Oxford English Dictionary is adequate for most purposes.  That definition is:

“A small court, yard, garth or piece of ground attached to a dwellinghouse and forming one enclosure with it, or so regarded by the law, the area attached to and containing a dwellinghouse and its outbuildings.”

In James v Secretary of State for the Environment 1990 it was held that there are three criteria for determining whether land is within the curtilage of a building, namely:

(1) physical layout

(2) ownership, past and present

(3) use or function, past and present