Confusion over boundary lines and property ownership can eventually lead to a legal action filed before a court. Many Massachusetts adverse possession claims are argued before the Massachusetts Land Court, which shares jurisdiction with other courts over most real property cases in the state. In a August 29, 2017 decision, the Land Court considered the plaintiffs’ claim that they had acquired portions of the defendant’s neighboring property, which consisted of a narrow strip of land bordering their lot and a concrete pad adjacent to that strip.
In Massachusetts, title by adverse possession can be acquired if the claimant establishes, with clear proof, non-permissive use, which is actual, open and notorious, exclusive, and adverse for a period of 20 years.
The strip of land at issue in the case contained a pathway, retaining walls and low stone structures, a fence, and vegetation planted by the plaintiffs. The Land Court found that the plaintiffs’ improvements and maintenance of the pathway and planting bed area were sufficient to constitute actual use for the purposes of adverse possession. Specifically, the plaintiffs’ construction of a rock wall, retaining walls, and fence were permanent improvements to the property ordinarily associated with ownership. The court also held that the fence and stone walls surrounding the strip were sufficient to show that the plaintiffs’ use of the area was open and notorious, thereby putting the record owner on notice of their claim to the area, as well as exclusive. The court explained that the fence enclosed the cleared pathway and planting bed area as if it was an extension of the plaintiffs’ property. Finally, evidence that the plaintiffs had used the strip of land since they had moved into their house in 1982 satisfied the 20-year required period of possession. Accordingly, the court ruled that the plaintiffs had established their ownership of that narrow area by adverse possession.