Property descriptions contained in deeds that were written a century ago can be difficult to interpret, and this may eventually lead to title disputes. In a September 27, 2017 Massachusetts real estate case, a plaintiff filed a petition with the Land Court to confirm title to an unregistered portion of property that consisted of upland and salt meadow. The primary issue for the Land Court in the case was whether an 1886 deed on which the plaintiff relied conveyed the entirety of the area at issue, or just the salt meadow portion, leaving the upland to be conveyed by an 1894 deed to the previous owners of the defendants’ property.
The purpose of land registration proceedings is to provide a method for making titles to land certain and indefeasible. The plaintiff in a registration petition has the burden to establish claim of title to a particular parcel of land and the correct location of that land on the ground. The plaintiff in the case sought to establish his interest in the entire area through his record title in an 1886 deed. The 1886 deed described the land conveyed in general terms as “a lot of salt meadow,” and it did not specify whether that area included the upland.
In Massachusetts, the rules of deed construction provide a hierarchy for interpreting descriptions in a deed: descriptions that refer to monuments are controlling, then descriptions that use courses and distances, and lastly, descriptions by area. The court may consider any competent evidence in determining the true boundary line between adjoining owners, including relevant extrinsic evidence bearing upon the grantor’s intent, such as the circumstances of the transaction and the subsequent actions of the parties.