A poorly delineated property boundary in a densely populated neighborhood is a condition that often causes tension between neighbors. This situation is what eventually led to the dispute between a business condominium association and a residential homeowner in a November 19, 2018 Massachusetts real estate case. The defendant in the case lived behind the plaintiffs’ building, which was occupied by four commercial businesses.
A cinder block wall erected by the defendant’s father in 1976 had given rise to the misunderstandings that formed the basis of the dispute. To delineate the higher grade of the driveway and prevent vehicles from falling off the side, the defendant’s father had made a wall with cinder blocks and stacked railroad ties. The wall, however, had the appearance of a boundary fence. The plaintiffs’ building was constructed thereafter, in 1981. A land survey had recently confirmed that the defendant was the record owner of a narrow, triangular strip of land near the back of the plaintiffs’ property. The plaintiffs then filed an action in Land Court for adverse possession, claiming ownership of the strip.
In Massachusetts, title by adverse possession can only be acquired with proof of nonpermissive use which is actual, open, notorious, exclusive, and adverse for an uninterrupted period of twenty years. After hearing testimony from witnesses and viewing the disputed area, the Land Court concluded that the plaintiffs had not established adverse possession of the entire disputed area. The court explained that although a fence is ordinarily sufficient to demonstrate an adverse enclosure of land, the cinder block wall did not run the full length of the boundary, nor did it block any access to the disputed area. The court also noted that the defendant regularly went over the wall for materials that he stored in the disputed area.