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A homeowner may file an action to quiet title in order to claim their ownership rights of the property in question.  In a September 4, 2019 Massachusetts property case, the plaintiffs brought an action in Land Court claiming ownership of a way that lined one side of their property.  The plaintiffs also sought a judgment that the defendant, a neighboring property owner, had no rights in or over the way.

The plaintiffs’ property consisted of nine row houses, which each row house having a separate entrance onto the way at issue.  When the plaintiffs acquired their property in 1985, there was a fence that separated the way from the defendants’ abutting property.  The fence was installed by the previous owner of the defendant’s property.  It was built ten feet high, and did not have a gate or any other opening to allow passage between the defendant’s property and the way.  In 2018, the plaintiffs replaced the fence after it was knocked down by a storm.

Pursuant to the Massachusetts derelict fee statute, a deed passing title to real estate that abuts a private or public way also conveys ownership to the centerline of the way if the grantor retains the property on the other side of the way, and if the deed does not expressly provide otherwise.  The Land Court concluded that, pursuant to the Massachusetts derelict fee statute, the deed to the plaintiffs’ property conveyed ownership up to the centerline of the way.  The issue, therefore, was whether the plaintiffs had ownership over the entire way through adverse possession.

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Gathering evidence to support an adverse possession action can be daunting, but a Massachusetts real estate lawyer can assist you in putting forth the strongest case possible.  The plaintiff in an August 29, 2019 case succeeded in establishing title by adverse possession to two separate areas of land abutting her property.  The Appeals Court of Massachusetts affirmed the decision of the lower court after examining the evidence she presented to make her case.

The plaintiff in the case purchased her home in 2000.  To the west and south, her property directly abutted an undeveloped, wooded land owned by the defendant.  The west area was a mowed, grassy area, with no permanent improvements.  The south area was largely covered by a paved basketball court, with one permanent post, backboard, and hoop.

The defendant did not dispute that the plaintiff had established the elements of adverse possession over the west and south areas during the 14 years that she has owned her property.  Rather, the question was whether the plaintiff could prove that the prior owner of her property had also met the required elements for the remaining 6 years, in order to establish a 20-year period of adverse possession.

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The public generally enjoys an easement of travel over all public roads.  In rare circumstances, the public may also have a right to use a private way.  However, such a right does not include the broad rights of a public road.  In an August 21, 2019 Massachusetts real estate case, the plaintiffs brought an action in Land Court to establish a right of access over the defendants’ private roads.

The plaintiffs in the case owned two landlocked parcels of land, with no means to reach it from a public way or public road.  Rather, the only available access to the plaintiffs’ parcels was by using two private ways, which were located on the defendants’ properties.  In their Land Court action, the plaintiffs asserted that they had the benefit of a public right of travel over the defendants’ two private roads.

In Massachusetts, a private way may become a public way by prescription.  There also can be private ways, not dedicated to public use, that are nevertheless open to public use by license or permission of the owner.  Generally, establishing that a private way has become public is more difficult to prove than showing that a private way is open to the public.  The rights allowed in a private way open to the public, however, are much more limited than the easement rights afforded to the public in a public way and a public way by prescription.

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The issue of Massachusetts real estate easement rights commonly arises in situations involving beach access and pathways to the shore.  This issue was the source of the dispute in an August 16, 2019 case decided by the Massachusetts Land Court on summary judgment.  The question for the court was whether the defendants had an easement in a way referred to as the “shoreway,” which abutted the plaintiffs’ registered property.

The parties’ properties were located along a bay in Massachusetts.  The properties were once part of a larger tract assembled in 1950, which had been registered on a county registry district certificate and depicted on a Land Court plan.  The lands comprising the larger tract, however, had been registered long before 1950 in various certificates.  Many of these certificates mentioned the roads within the registered parcels, and provided that the streets and ways shown on the plan were subject to the rights of all persons lawfully entitled to use them.

When the larger tract was divided in 1950 and thereafter, the developer registered several subdivision plans that included inland lots and oceanfront lots.  The plans also depicted “shoreways,” which extended a short distance from the private interior subdivision roads to the bay.  Both the inland lots and the oceanfront lots referred to easements providing a right of way in common with others over the private ways and shoreways.

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A restrictive covenant is a binding legal obligation that relates to the use of the land.  Typically, restrictive covenants are written into the real estate deed to the property.  In some situations, a plaintiff may sue to enforce a covenant against the owner of property subject to a restrictive covenant, as in an August 9, 2019 Massachusetts property case.

Both of the parties in the case resided in a subdivision abutting a country club and golf course.  When the homes were sold, the subdivision developer imposed a No Pools Restriction on the lots. The defendant knew about the restriction when he bought the property but began building a pool anyway.  The plaintiff filed a lawsuit in Land Court to enforce the restrictive covenant and enjoin the defendant from completing the pool.

In Massachusetts, although landowners are not precluded from bargaining for and enforcing beneficial land use restrictions, restrictions on land are generally disfavored.  To promote the reasonable use of land and increase the marketability of land impaired by obsolete restrictions, Massachusetts has enacted a statute that limits the right to enforce restrictive covenants on real property.  The defendants in the case agreed that their property was subject to a restrictive covenant but argued that this statute applied to prevent the plaintiff from enforcing the restriction at issue.

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Massachusetts easement rights are often a source of contention between neighboring property owners.  If a property owner files an action for a declaratory judgment, the court may issue a decision setting forth the easement rights of the respective property owners, as in a July 26, 2019 case.

The plaintiff in the case brought an action against her neighbor, seeking a declaration that her neighbor had no legal right to the continued use of a sewerage pumping station on her property, and seeking injunctive relief and damages.  After the lower court granted the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, the defendant filed an appeal with the Appeals Court of Massachusetts.

At the time the plaintiff had purchased her lot, she was aware that the prior owner of the defendant’s lot was using the pump station on her lot to dispute of sewage.  The local town, however, had been paying the costs associated with the pump station since its completion in 2001.  In 2011, the town sought to recoup these costs from the plaintiff.  Thereafter, a disagreement arose between the parties regarding the defendant’s contribution towards the expenses of the pump station.  This prompted the plaintiff to file an action seeking a declaration that the defendant had no right to use the pump station.

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For many owners of residential beach homes in Massachusetts, their ocean view is an important and enjoyable part of their property.  In order to make certain changes to the home, therefore, local zoning laws generally require a special permit or variance.  In a July 12, 2019 Massachusetts real estate case, the owner of a beach house opposed the building permits granted to her neighbors for a tear-down and rebuild of a new residence.  The matter came before the Land Court on appeal by the plaintiff, following the decision of the local zoning board.

Both of the parties’ properties were on a peninsula near the ocean.  The plaintiff resided in a single-story home with a deck.  The defendants reportedly tore down an existing, single-story, non-conforming residence and built a new two-story home in its place.  Although the plaintiff’s view of the ocean from her deck became partially obstructed by the second story of the defendants’ new house, the height of the house fully complied with current zoning.  Other aspects of the house, however, were not.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the defendants’ new home increased the nonconformity of the floor area, open space, and setbacks beyond the limits allowed under the town zoning bylaw.  While the defendants had obtained a building permit to construct the house, the plaintiff asserted that the defendants were required to obtain a special permit or variance for the new build.

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Local zoning regulations generally promote the safety and general welfare of the community, while also encouraging the most appropriate use of the land.  In a July 11, 2019 Massachusetts real estate case, the plaintiffs sought to overturn a decision by the local planning board that waived the requirements of a zoning regulation.

The defendants in the case had applied for approval of a two-lot, two-residence subdivision.  They also proposed to extend the right-of-way running over the plaintiffs’ lot.  Under the applicable zoning regulation, all owners of all land included in the subdivision proposal are required to join in the application.  Due to the plaintiffs’ ownership of the right-of-way, which was included in the defendants’ subdivision plan, the regulation required the plaintiffs’ signature.  However, the local planning board waived this requirement and approved the defendants’ application.  The plaintiffs subsequently appealed the board’s decision to the Land Court.

On appeal, the Land Court concluded, as an initial matter, that the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the appeal.  Although the plaintiffs were afforded the presumption of being aggrieved, as their property abutted the defendants’ land, they did not establish any specific and substantiated injury that would result from the board’s decision.  Nevertheless, the court went on to consider the issue of whether the applicant waiver was improper.

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Massachusetts property transfers involve legal considerations that, if not taken into account, may have unintended consequences.  A July 3, 2019 case before the Appeals Court of Massachusetts illustrates how some of these issues may arise.  The case centered around the parties’ oral agreement for the purchase and sale of a house, and the subject of their legal dispute was the defendants’ failure to assume the mortgages on the property.

In late 2010, facing possible foreclosure on his house, the plaintiff in the case reportedly entered into an oral agreement to sell his house to the defendants.  In exchange, the plaintiff would receive a cash payment, the defendants’ assumption of the mortgages on the property, and payment of all property-related expenses.  In April of 2013, over two years after the defendants took possession of the house, and despite their good faith efforts, they failed to complete the assumption of the mortgage.  The plaintiff then filed an action in Land Court seeking to rescind the transaction and cancel the deed to the defendants.

In Massachusetts, rescission is a potential remedy for breach of contract, but rescission is not an available remedy for any and all breaches.  Generally, rescission is disfavored as a remedy for a mere failure to perform a promise.  To justify the remedy, a plaintiff seeking rescission must show that the breach deprived him of the essence of the agreement.  In the absence of fraud, the conduct of the defendant must be fundamentally adverse to the purpose of contact in order to be a ground for rescission of it by the other party.

In Massachusetts, land owners may file a petition in Land Court to determine the validity of, or the extent to which, a zoning bylaw or land use ordinance may affect the use, improvement, or development of their land.  In a July 1, 2019 Massachusetts real estate case, the plaintiff brought an action against his town, seeking a declaration as to how its zoning bylaw applied to his property.  Because the issue turned on undisputed facts, the Land Court decided the case on summary judgment.

The local ordinance at issue required that any type of residence must be setback at least 10 feet from a property line and at least 20 feet from the street.  However, an exception was provided for properties with existing buildings, if they were located less than 10 feet from the property line, or less than 20 feet from the street.  Such properties are allowed a setback equal to that of the nearer building line, as established by the existing buildings.

The plaintiff in the case owned property with an existing house and barn, among other structures.  Having reportedly been granted approval to divide his property into six single-family lots, the plaintiff wanted greater flexibility to develop the 6.5-acre property.  Correspondingly, if the bylaw exception applied, he would not be restrained by the 10-foot property line and 20-foot street setback requirements.  The issue in the case, therefore, was whether the house and barn created a nearer “building line” under the bylaw, thus exempting the plaintiff’s property from the bylaw’s setback requirements.

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