Court Determines Easement Rights Over Beaches in Massachusetts Real Estate Action

In a Massachusetts real estate action, a claimant may assert multiple legal grounds to establish their ownership or other rights in a particular parcel of land.  In an October 24, 2019 case, the plaintiffs brought an action seeking an adjudication as to their easement rights over two beaches owned by the defendants.  Their claims were based on an express grant in their chain of title, as well as a prescriptive easement.

The parties in the case had a decades-long history in the area that began in their childhoods.  The plaintiffs had spent summers in the area with family friends, who were the prior owners of their property.  Beginning in the 1970s, the plaintiffs and their friends would use the entire portion of the beach, as there was no distinction made among the beaches within the layout of the adjacent properties at the time.  Following the death of the prior owner, the plaintiffs’ family acquired the property in 2000.  Thereafter, the plaintiffs and their families used the beaches whenever the weather permitted.

Starting in 2008, the defendants that owned one of the beaches in dispute reportedly posted “no trespassing” signs on the beach and sent no trespassing notices to the plaintiffs.  In 2011, the defendants installed a video surveillance system, which included a camera pointing at the beach.  In addition, the defendants began calling the police when they observed the plaintiffs on the beach.  The plaintiffs subsequently brought a legal action in Land Court to determine the parties’ respective rights in the area beaches, including a second beach belonging to another set of defendants.

The Land Court reviewed the deeds to the parties’ properties and heard testimony at trial.  The court determined that the 1951 deed to the plaintiffs’ property granted an easement to use the beach located on the first defendants’ property.  Although the extent of the beach area was not defined in the deed, the court concluded that the beach included the area from the high-water mark to the water, for the length of the property.  In addition, the court found that the easement contained in the deed to use the beach was unlimited in scope.  Therefore, the plaintiffs were entitled via an express easement to use the first beach for sitting, swimming, walking the shoreline, and engaging in general beach recreation.

With regards to the second beach, the court found that the plaintiffs did not establish that they had a prescriptive easement over the beach.  In Massachusetts, an easement may be created by prescription with the continuous and uninterrupted use of the area for twenty years.  The law also requires clear proof of open, notorious, adverse use for the entire statutory period.  Concluding that the plaintiffs’ use of the second beach was sporadic and intermittent, the court denied the prescriptive easement.

The Massachusetts real estate attorneys at Pulgini & Norton handle a wide-range of residential property matters, including adverse possession claims and quiet title actions.  We can also assist homeowners with building permits, purchase and sale agreements, foreclosure proceedings, and more.  If you are seeking legal advice concerning your home or residential property, schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys by calling (781) 843-2200 or contacting Pulgini & Norton online.

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