In some situations, a well-traveled path through another’s personal property may give rise to an easement over time. In a case decided on March 7, 2017, the Appeals Court of Massachusetts reviewed whether the plaintiffs were entitled to use a path located on the defendants’ property in order to access a nearby beach. The case was on appeal following the Land Court’s decision finding that past use of the path by the plaintiffs and their predecessors had established a prescriptive easement over that portion of the defendants’ land.
The dispute originated during the previous ownership of the parties’ lots, which are located in two bordering subdivisions. When the defendants’ subdivision was initially developed, a road was installed for construction use to reach the public road. Thereafter, the same developer was hired to develop the plaintiff’s subdivision. The developer breached a wall that ran between the construction road, so equipment and materials used for the defendants’ subdivision could easily be brought into the plaintiffs’ subdivision.
Early purchasers of lots in the plaintiffs’ subdivision testified that residents would regularly walk and bike down the construction road to access the beach, although they were not granted explicit permission by the developer to use the road. In 1995, after the defendants acquired their lot, they installed a large boulder approximately four feet wide and four feet high at the northern entrance of the construction road, with an inscription that stated the road was a private way. Despite the sign, the defendants regularly observed people using the road to access the beach.