Sharing an access road or right of way with other property owners occasionally causes conflict, as in a recent Massachusetts real estate action. The parties in the case owned adjacent lots in a residential subdivision that bordered a lake. In a January 17, 2019 decision, the Land Court was presented with the question of whether and to what extent the parties had property rights in, or ownership of, a right of way easement leading to the lake.
The defendant in the case owned a lot in the same subdivision as the plaintiffs. He used the right of way regularly to access the lake, and had made improvements to it, such as re-grading a sloped section and installing a portable, metal dock. The co-plaintiffs filed the action seeking to clear title and for a declaratory judgment with respect to their ownership rights in the way. They presented multiple, alternative theories to the court to establish their claims.
Ultimately, the plaintiffs prevailed on their claim that they owned the right of way up to the centerline, by operation of the Derelict Fee Statute. Pursuant to the Massachusetts Derelict Fee Statute, a deed that conveys a piece of land abutting a way includes ownership of the way up to the centerline, unless otherwise expressed in the deed. If the property on the other side of the way is conveyed as well, the full width of the way is conveyed.