Property descriptions contained in deeds that were written a century ago can be difficult to interpret, and this may eventually lead to title disputes. In a September 27, 2017 Massachusetts real estate case, a plaintiff filed a petition with the Land Court to confirm title to an unregistered portion of property that consisted of upland and salt meadow. The primary issue for the Land Court in the case was whether an 1886 deed on which the plaintiff relied conveyed the entirety of the area at issue, or just the salt meadow portion, leaving the upland to be conveyed by an 1894 deed to the previous owners of the defendants’ property.
The purpose of land registration proceedings is to provide a method for making titles to land certain and indefeasible. The plaintiff in a registration petition has the burden to establish claim of title to a particular parcel of land and the correct location of that land on the ground. The plaintiff in the case sought to establish his interest in the entire area through his record title in an 1886 deed. The 1886 deed described the land conveyed in general terms as “a lot of salt meadow,” and it did not specify whether that area included the upland.
In Massachusetts, the rules of deed construction provide a hierarchy for interpreting descriptions in a deed: descriptions that refer to monuments are controlling, then descriptions that use courses and distances, and lastly, descriptions by area. The court may consider any competent evidence in determining the true boundary line between adjoining owners, including relevant extrinsic evidence bearing upon the grantor’s intent, such as the circumstances of the transaction and the subsequent actions of the parties.
Interpreting the 1886 deed, the Land Court explained that the use of the phrase “a lot of salt meadow” did not necessarily restrict the conveyance to exclusively the salt meadow. The court noted that salt hay harvested from a salt meadow was a valuable commodity in Cape Cod during the 19th century, and the salt meadow portion of land would not have been accessible to harvest salt hay without the use of the adjacent upland area. As a result, the conveyance would be expected to include required upland at the time the 1886 deed was recorded, unless the boundary was specifically described as to the “edge of” the upland. Furthermore, the court concluded that the 1894 deed on which the defendants relied was defective on its face, with obvious errors in its description that made it difficult to precisely locate the parcel conveyed by the deed. Accordingly, the court held that the plaintiff established title to the entire area consisting of the salt meadow and the upland.
At Pulgini & Norton, our land use attorneys provide legal guidance concerning residential real estate issues in Massachusetts. We represent individuals in home purchases and sales, securing mortgages and re-financing, title actions, and many other residential property disputes. To schedule a free consultation with one of our skilled real estate attorneys, call Pulgini & Norton at (781) 843-2200 or submit our contact form online.
More Blog Posts:
Massachusetts Land Court Explains Requirements for Acquiring Wooded Land by Adverse Possession, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published April 17, 2017
Massachusetts Land Court Denies Non-Owner’s Claim of Prescriptive Rights in Beach Property, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published May 1, 2017