Articles Posted in Property Owner Liability

In a recent decision, the Appeals Court of Massachusetts reviewed a real estate dispute involving a nuisance claim between neighboring property owners. In Maffei v. Johnson (Mass. App. Ct. Feb. 19, 2016), a landowner (who had since died) had filled and leveled a portion of his property over many years. The plaintiff owned the neighboring property and brought suit against the landowner’s estate, alleging that the filling stopped the flow of water from the plaintiff’s land onto the decedent’s land and resulted in the accumulation of water on one part of the plaintiff’s property. The judge held a trial on the plaintiff’s nuisance claim and concluded that the decedent’s actions were reasonable and that his estate was not liable for nuisance. The plaintiff subsequently appealed that decision.

In Maffei, the decedent had built a garage on his property which he backfilled against the foundation. After the garage was constructed, the decedent began filling and leveling the area in the front and to the left of the garage. He also leveled the left side of his property. The plaintiff noticed that after the decedent added the fill, water originating from the plaintiff’s property increasingly accumulated in the corner of his lot over an area of approximately 4,500 square feet. The water accumulation did not interfere with the plaintiff’s house or driveway.

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In a recent Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court case, Christakis v. Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union, Mass. Sup. Jud. Ct. (2015), the court had before it the issue of whether or not judicial liens on real property remain after the owner of the property receives a discharge under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code.

The plaintiff had filed a complaint in land court to remove judicial liens on the real property she owned. Three creditors had obtained final judgments against the plaintiff owner. The liens on the property, which purportedly arose out of unpaid credit card bills, were finalized prior to the plaintiff’s filing for bankruptcy.

Once the plaintiff filed for bankruptcy, there were various cross motions and motions for summary judgment motions filed. However, only one out of the three creditors responded to the filing.

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Yesterday afternoon, the Governor declared a state of emergency and issued a travel ban for all non-priority travel. The specific sorts of individuals who are exempted from the ban can be found here. Generally speaking, the classes of those exempted include those who need critical medical care, emergency care personnel, and those clearing the roads.

The massive storm is expected to bring 1-3 inches of snow per hour, with an overall anticipated snowfall of 30-36 inches in some areas, including particularly Eastern Massachusetts. Blizzard-like conditions are expected, with heavy winds and perhaps flooding in coastal areas.

One of the largest concerns with major snow storm events like this one is the amount of property damage that can occur. Huge snowfall events can cause a lot of weight to be placed on roofs, awnings, and other areas. Additionally, the snow or wind can cause tree limbs to fall, causing damage to homes or vehicles. Additionally, in colder temperatures, there is the added threat of frozen pipes and the corresponding risk of pipes bursting, causing flooding within the home.

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Massachusetts Snow Removal Statutes

In July 2010, a series of state statutes went into effect that are particularly relevant this winter, with the National Weather Service predicting one Polar Vortex after another to come whirling through the state. Massachusetts General Laws ch. 85, §§ 5, 6, and 7 assign shoveling duties for sidewalks, driveways, and streets, on both public and private property.

If you own property in Massachusetts, whether residential or commercial, you are required by these statutes to take responsibility in a number of ways for removing or mitigating the snow drifts and ice sheets that accumulate on sidewalks and parking lots. This may involve do it yourself shoveling, contracting with a snowplow service, or hiring someone to distribute sand or salt on the accumulated white stuff. If you fail to do your part, and someone is injured as a result, you could face liability for either physical injury, property damage, or both.

Property Owners Responsible For Public Sidewalks

Responsibility for snow-related maintenance is not limited to property you own but may also apply to public property adjoining your private property. In cities like Boston, Worcester, and Lynn, property owners are responsible for keeping the sidewalks in front of their businesses or residences clear of snow and safe for pedestrians. There may even be a time limit on how long you can wait before clearing the sidewalk. The city ordinance in Worcester, for example, allows you only 10 hours after it stops snowing to clear away ice and snow from sidewalks in front of your business or residence. Failure to do so may lead to a fine of $75 for every day the snow or ice remains uncleared. In Boston, a property owner must clear the entire width of the sidewalk or a minimum of 42 inches, within three hours after the snow ceases to fall, to avoid fines. This holds true, even if that monster drift was plowed onto your sidewalk by a city plow. For the specific snow removal ordinance for your town, click the ordinances and bylaws for Massachusetts towns, find your town, and search for “snow removal.” If your town is not listed here, contact your local town or city hall for more information.

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