Articles Posted in Easements

A disagreement between property owners regarding their respective boundary lines may lead to legal action.  In a July 30, 2018 opinion, the Massachusetts Land Court decided a case concerning the ownership of a disputed area along the boundary line between the parties’ properties.  The area at issue was the driveway separating the two properties.  The plaintiffs in the case brought an action against the defendant to quiet title, claiming ownership over the entire portion of the disputed area pursuant to their deed.The driveway at issue was used by both parties to enter and exit their respective properties.  When the defendant purchased her property in 1998, there was a wood board affixed to the driveway that ran the length of the two houses, indicating a boundary line.  When the plaintiffs purchased their house in 2002, they understood that they were entitled to use the entire driveway between the properties, and they did so.  At some point, however, the defendant told the plaintiffs that the boundary line was down the middle of the driveway and that the plaintiffs could not use or drive on her side of it.

In 2013, the defendant had a survey done of her property to determine the location of the boundary line on the driveway.  The plaintiffs, in turn, obtained a survey in 2015 and sought a second survey thereafter.  The defendant sought a permit and constructed a four-foot fence on the driveway.  The plaintiffs obtained a third survey in 2016, which showed that a portion of the driveway and the defendant’s fence were located on the plaintiffs’ property.

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The right to cross another person’s land via an easement may be subject to limitations.  In a July 6, 2018 Massachusetts real estate case, one of the issues for the Land Court was whether an easement located on the plaintiffs’ land had been overburdened by the defendants’ use over time.  The easement at issue allowed the defendants to access a public road from their property through a roadway on the plaintiffs’ property.  The plaintiffs claimed that the defendants had overloaded the easement because they used it to access property other than the parcel expressly identified.  The plaintiffs also sought damages for flooding, which they alleged was caused by the defendants having raised and widened the easement roadway.

An affirmative easement creates a nonpossessory right to enter and use land in the possession of another and obligates the possessor not to interfere with the uses authorized by the easement.  Accordingly, the party holding rights to use of the easement, i.e., the defendants, are entitled to make only the uses reasonably necessary for the specified purpose, while the plaintiffs may use their land in any way that does not unreasonably interfere with the easement.

The defendants argued that they had established a prescriptive right to use the easement to access other parcels of land in addition to the parcel expressly identified in the easement.  In order to establish their claim to a prescriptive easement, the defendants must show that their use of the easement was (a) open, (b) notorious, (c) adverse to the owner, and (d) continuous or uninterrupted over a period of no less than twenty years.

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In certain instances, using a private road on another person’s property over many years may give rise to a property interest.  In a June 26, 2018 Massachusetts real estate case, the plaintiffs had been using the defendants’ private road to access a main throughway from their property.  They filed an action in land court arguing that they had acquired an easement over the road.

In the case, the plaintiffs’ house could be reached by taking one of two different routes from the main road.  Using the road in dispute, which was located on the defendants’ property, was the easiest and quickest route.  When the plaintiffs purchased their home in 1993, they had assumed that use of the disputed way was conveyed by the deed to the house, which provided “a right of way to the Public Highway.”  Accordingly, the plaintiffs had used the disputed way from the time they moved in, believing they had a right to do so.  In the midst of the instant disagreement with the defendants, the plaintiffs learned from their attorney that they had misinterpreted their deed, and that the right of way merely referred to the street on which their house was located.  Nevertheless, the plaintiffs filed an action against the defendants, claiming that they had acquired a private easement by prescription over the disputed way.

In Massachusetts, a claimant may be entitled to a prescriptive easement over the land of another if it is shown by clear proof that the use of the land has been (a) open, (b) notorious, (c) adverse to the owner, and (d) continuous or uninterrupted over a period of at least twenty years.

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People who claim the right to an easement on another person’s property may need to take legal action if the existence of the easement is disputed.  At issue in a June 7, 2018 Massachusetts real estate case were the plaintiffs’ rights, if any, to access their woodlands by going through the defendants’ privately owned lands.

The plaintiffs in the case sought to use a route on the present-day remains of two former dirt roadways.  The dirt roadways were once public roads taken in easement by town meeting votes in 1780 and 1805.  These roads fell into disuse by the mid-1800s and were eventually discontinued by a town meeting vote in 1886.  Thereafter, the sections at issue in the case were gated off, and the underlying land was re-integrated into the properties currently owned by the defendants.  The plaintiffs did not need the easement access, since they could access all areas of their properties from public roads and internal roads on their properties.  However, the plaintiffs wanted to use the easement at issue because the route would provide more direct and easier access for them to conduct logging operations on their property.

In support of their action, the plaintiffs argued that the town votes did not discontinue the roadways’ public status, only the public obligation to maintain them, or in the alternative, that the public subsequently acquired access rights by prescription.  The plaintiffs also claimed an easement over the former roadways by necessity, prescription, or express or implied in their deeds.

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An easement is the legal right to a particular, limited use of property by someone other than the owner of the property.  In some cases, the existence of an easement may become unclear after the property has passed down through different owners over many years.  In a February 23, 2018 opinion, the appeals court considered a Massachusetts real estate action involving the plaintiffs’ claim to a right of way easement over the defendants’ land to access a main road.

The plaintiffs in the case owned a four-acre oceanfront parcel of land.  The first mention of the easement at issue was in a 1927 deed, through which the original grantor conveyed a portion of his land.  That portion was eventually owned by the plaintiffs.  The 1927 deed included an easement consisting of a right of way from the north side of the parcel to “Beach Road.”  The easement appeared with the same language in each subsequent deed conveying the parcel of land, but it was not precisely identified.  Through other deeds in 1927, the original grantor also conveyed the property currently owned by the defendants, which contained a way to access Beach Road.

In 1999, the plaintiffs divided their parcel into two lots and sold one of them to a third party.  However, the plaintiffs did not expressly reserve a right of way over the lot they sold.  Subsequently, a dispute arose over the location of the 1927 easement.  The plaintiffs alleged that the easement began at a point on the road that adjoins their property and crosses over the defendant’s land to meet Beach Road.  The defendants argued that the right of way began from the lot no longer owned by the plaintiffs.

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A deed restriction may significantly affect one’s enjoyment of their own property by prohibiting certain uses, activities, or construction.  The plaintiff in an April 26, 2018 Massachusetts land use case challenged a deed restriction imposed on her property in the Massachusetts Land Court.  She sought a declaration that some of the deed restrictions were invalid, alleging that they violated public policy by imposing an unreasonable restraint.  The defendant in the case was the City of Boston.

In 1991, the City sold the lot to the prior owner as part of a program in which it conveyed small parcels of land to abutting Boston residents, subject to deed restrictions.  The open-space restriction required that the property be used and maintained for open space purposes, such as gardening, landscaping, and off-street residential parking.  The no-build restriction prohibited the construction or installation of structures on the lot, with only one exception for an addition to the existing dwelling on the abutting lot.  The purpose of the program and deed restrictions was to retain the public benefits of open space as well as preserving reasonable density in Boston neighborhoods.

In connection with the deed, the prior owner executed a mortgage on the property, which required the written consent of the City in order to assign it to a successive owner and secured the owner’s compliance with the restrictions.  In 2010, the City gave its consent to the conveyance of the property to the plaintiff.  The deed set forth the same restrictions but expressly provided that they were for the benefit of the City of Boston.  The plaintiff also granted a mortgage at that time, in which she agreed to the restrictions.

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For many homeowners, an unexpected legal claim against their property is unsettling.  A Massachusetts real estate attorney can explain the options available and represent homeowners in the proceedings.  In an April 6, 2018 case, homeowners sought to prevent the town from using a path on their property to reach a local pond.  The homeowners argued that any easement held by the town to use the path had been abandoned.

The homeowners in the case owned property in a subdivision that was laid out on a plan recorded in 1914.  That plan, however, had virtually no relationship with how the area actually developed.  Many of the lots were combined into larger parcels before houses were built on them, while others were made a part of extensive conservation areas.  As a result, many of the roadways on the plan were never built or used, such as the path across the plaintiffs’ property.

The path at issue had never been used as a right of way to the pond by anyone, since the path was located on the plaintiffs’ front lawn, used as part of their driveway, and partially blocked by a stone wall.  Nevertheless, the town, which had always used other routes to reach the pond, contended it had the right to use the path for access to the pond.  The town’s claimed right of access was based solely on the 1914 subdivision plan.

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In Massachusetts, land use and ownership can be complicated after a parcel of property has passed through several owners over the course of many years.  In a March 3, 2018 case, the plaintiffs filed an action claiming that they had established a prescriptive easement to pass over part of the defendant’s land.  The matter was decided by the Massachusetts Land Court on summary judgment motions.

The plaintiffs in the case owned a parcel of land that abutted property owned by the defendants.  The defendants’ property consisted of two parcels.  Originally, the two parcels were a single piece of land owned by another individual.  The original owner divided the land into two parcels in 1995, conveying one parcel to the defendants and keeping the other parcel for himself.  The plaintiffs and the original owner engaged in litigation over the parcel he retained until 2012, when the house on the property was torn down.  Eventually, the property was foreclosed upon, and the defendants purchased that parcel from the original owner as well.  The plaintiffs then asserted a claim that they had established a prescriptive easement to pass over a portion of the defendants’ land.  Specifically, the disputed area consisted of a section of the circular driveway on the defendants’ property, located on the parcel that had initially been retained by the original owner.

In Massachusetts, to establish a prescriptive easement, the plaintiffs must prove open, notorious, adverse, and continuous or uninterrupted use of the defendant’s land for a period of at least 20 years.  The defendants in the case argued that the plaintiffs could not establish their prescriptive easement claim because their use of the defendants’ property was permissive, and otherwise it was merely intermittent or sporadic.

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In Massachusetts, beach access can be a significant feature of a residential real estate property.  In a March 5, 2018 case, the primary issue before the Appeals Court of Massachusetts concerned the ownership of, and access to, a beach situated near the parties’ homes.  The Land Court had ruled that the plaintiffs held easement rights to access and use the beach by a 1929 deed and by implication.  The defendants appealed the Land Court decision to the higher court.

An appurtenant easement allows for the use of a servient parcel of land in order to benefit a dominant parcel of land and the possessors of that land.  Appurtenant easements attach to and run with the land and consequently benefit subsequent possessors of that property as well.  If the appurtenant easement is expressly granted by deed, the deed must only reasonably identify the servient land, the dominant land, and the easement itself.

In the case, the 1929 deed expressly granted easement rights to the owner and subsequent owners.  It identified the easement as granting recreational use of the beach and shore located on the opposite end of the servient estate, currently owned by the defendants.  The defendants argued, however, that the plaintiffs were outside the record title chain and were not grantees of the easement.  The appeals court stated that appurtenant easements are not required to be recorded in the grantees’ title, and the successors of the dominant estate need not be specifically identified at the time of conveyance.  Instead, it is only required that the dominant and servient estates be reasonably ascertainable.  Since the plaintiffs possessed property comprising the dominant estate at the time of the May 1929 deed, therefore, they held easement rights to use the beach.

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It may seem unusual that, despite owning a parcel of property, some non-owners may have a limited right to use a portion of it.  One of the legal devices to convey such use is called an easement.  In a December 20, 2017 case, a plaintiff filed an action with the Massachusetts Land Court to remove alleged clouds on the title to his property.  In two of the counts in his complaint, the plaintiff sought to establish that the defendants did not have the right or benefit of an easement over his land.  The parties’ lots were part of a subdivision they purchased from the developer.

The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment on the issues before the Land Court.  The plaintiff argued that the defendants had no right to use areas of his land that were designated as “cart paths” in the recorded deeds and subdivision plans.  The plaintiff also contended that the developer had no right to a private driveway easement that was referenced in the deeds as crossing his land.

The court first looked at the language of the deeds and other recorded documents to determine whether the defendants had rights over the cart paths on the plaintiff’s land.  While noting that the documents did depict the cart paths, the court explained that none of the deeds mentioned any rights that were granted or reserved over any of them. The court also pointed out that there were no facts to suggest that easements over the cart paths arose by implication, common scheme, or necessity.  Accordingly, the court ruled in favor of the plaintiff with respect to the cart paths, finding that the defendants did not have any right to use the cart paths on his land.

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