Property disputes are not uncommon between landowners, particularly those with neighboring lots. The Massachusetts Land Court recently reviewed a real estate lawsuit between neighbors involving claims of record ownership and adverse possession in the case of Evans v. Jackson (Mass. Land Ct. June 15, 2016).
In Evans, the defendants owned a parcel of land that was once a tidal pool but was filled in the 1920s. The plaintiff claimed that she had title to the filled flats of the pond abutting her property, which were currently being used and occupied by the defendants, since title was conveyed along with her property pursuant to an ordinance. The plaintiff sought a declaratory judgment to prevent the defendants from constructing an addition to their single-family home on the disputed area. The land court, however, ultimately held that the defendants have title to the flats, and in addition, they obtained title to the disputed area by adverse possession.
In Evans, the court first traced the extensive history of the property at issue, going back to 1872. The land court narrowed the issue to whether the disputed area was intended to be included in the conveyance of the residential lot to the defendants, or whether the grantors did not intend to convey this additional area along with the lot. Accordingly, the court engaged in an analysis of the deeds to determine record ownership.
In Massachusetts, the basic principle governing the interpretation of deeds is that their meaning, derived from the presumed intent of the grantor, is to be ascertained from the words used in the written instrument, construed when necessary in light of the attendant circumstances. If a deed appears to be ambiguous, and rules of construction are necessary to interpret a deed’s description, the consideration of circumstances outside the express language of the deed may be necessary.
In Evans, the plaintiff acknowledged that the language of the 1898 deed to her lot did not include the disputed area, but she relied on the Colonial Ordinance of 1641-1647 for the presumption that title to the flats follows title to the adjacent uplands. The court, however, noted that the presumption can be overcome, since an owner has the right to sell his upland without the flats, or any part thereof. As a result, based on the specific language of the deeds in the chain of title, as well as documentary evidence and expert testimony, the judge found that the defendants are the record owners of the disputed area.
In addition, the court found that the defendants had also established title to the disputed area by adverse possession. Title by adverse possession can be acquired only by proof of nonpermissive use that is actual, open, notorious, exclusive, and adverse for 20 years. The defendants successfully demonstrated these elements for portions of the disputed area, and the court further held that they had title in the entirety by color of title, since the defendants had paid taxes on the property at issue, and the area was included in the deed description.
If you are involved in a boundary dispute or have concerns regarding your property rights, an experienced real estate attorney can help you explore your legal options. The hardworking attorneys at Pulgini & Norton provide guidance and dedicated representation to individuals in a range of real estate and property cases, including closings and mortgages, adverse possession, easements, and more. To schedule a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys, call (781) 843-2200 or contact us online.
More Blog Posts:
Massachusetts Landowner Establishes Title to Fenced, Neighboring Property by Adverse Possession, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published March 7, 2016
Massachusetts Appeals Court Holds Record Land Owners May Be Liable to Adverse Possessors for Trespass, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published December 15, 2015