Failing to pay local property taxes can result in serious consequences, including property liens and even foreclosure. An August 30, 2017 case before the Land Court involved a Massachusetts foreclosure action brought by the town of Charlemont against the defendants after they stopped paying real estate taxes in 1992. The defendants in the case argued that their property was actually located in the neighboring town of Hawley, although Hawley chose not to assess taxes against their property, believing it to be in Charlemont.
The defendants’ property was only conclusively located in the town of Charlemont after a 2010 act by the Legislature fixed the town’s boundaries. Prior to that time, the parties disagreed as to whether the defendant’s property was located within the limits of Charlemont, or within the limits of the bordering town of Hawley. This question of where the property was located prior to the legislation was relevant to determine whether Charlemont could foreclose on its tax title for the previous years that it had assessed taxes against the defendants’ property. If the defendants were correct that their property was located in Hawley prior to the passage of the act, the tax assessed by Charlemont would be rendered void, and Charlemont, in turn, would have no legal basis to proceed in its foreclosure action against the defendants’ property.
The Land Court began by examining maps of the area that made up Charlemont and Hawley in order to determine the boundary line. A 1794 map depicted the southern boundary of Charlemont bordering the northern boundary of Hawley. In 1838, Charlemont annexed an unincorporated village that also bordered the northern boundary of Hawley. Subsequent maps conflicted in their descriptions of the boundary line between Charlemont and Hawley, prompting the Massachusetts Legislature to pass an act that definitively established the boundary line in question as of March 16, 2011.