Homeowners and Beach Association Vie for Ownership of Sand Strip in Massachusetts Real Estate Case

Longstanding or frequent disputes between property owners may be difficult to resolve outside of court.  The parties involved in a September 25, 2018 Massachusetts real estate case had clashed over their respective property rights in a sandy beach area for more than a dozen years.  Following a bench trial and a jury trial, the Superior Court entered judgment declaring the usage and ownership rights of each party.  The case reached the Appeals Court of Massachusetts after the parties filed cross-appeals.

The plaintiff in the case was a beach association that owned a parcel of property next to the defendants’ lot.  The defendants’ home was located on a lot within the neighborhood.  Both the plaintiff’s and defendants’ lots abutted a strip of sandy beach on the shore of a large pond.  The plaintiff’s lot and the sandy beach had been used for recreation by the neighborhood’s homeowners and their guests for decades.  The years long dispute among the parties centered around the portion of the beach abutting the defendants’ lot.  The parties disagreed over their respective rights to use of the dock and boat ramp situated on that area, the defendants’ encroachment over the shared boundary line, and the plaintiff’s right to use a footpath behind the defendants’ house.

On appeal, the court looked to the records of prior conveyances of the parties’ lots, which were once owned in common.  In the original conveyance of the parties’ combined lots, the grantor had retained property on the other side of a road shown on the plan.  When viewed from the ground, the road was unpaved in front of the parties’ lots, having remained a strip of sandy beach.  The defendants argued that they had title to the sandy strip because generally, all grants of property bounded by water also pass on the land up to the water.  The appeals court, however, applied the Massachusetts derelict fee statute to conclude that, in the absence of an expressly contrary intent, the grantor conveyed title only to the center line of the road, and not the entire road.  Accordingly, each party owned the portion of sandy breach strip that extended from their respective lots to the mid-point of the strip.

The court went on to find that the plaintiff presented substantial evidence of the use of the footpath starting in the 1940s and continuing until the defendants blocked the path with a fence in 2004.  There was also evidence that the boat ramp was used by members of the plaintiff’s organization and predecessors in the 1950s.  The court explained that this longtime continuous use, spanning more than twenty years, triggered the presumption that the use was nonpermissive.  The court thus upheld the plaintiff’s prescriptive easement over both the footpath and boat ramp.

The real estate attorneys at Pulgini & Norton can provide legal advice to people with questions concerning their Massachusetts residential property rights.  We assist owners and purchasers in a variety of legal matters, including purchase and sale transactions, title actions, permit and zoning issues, mortgages, and more.  Request a consultation by calling our office at (781) 843-2200 or submitting the website contact form.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Beachfront Property Owners Take Legal Action to Determine Location of Right of Way Easement, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published June 6, 2018

Massachusetts Landowner Seeks Injunction Prohibiting Neighbor’s Use of Beach Path, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published July 24, 2017

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