Lake Lot Owners File Massachusetts Land Court Action to Determine Their Rights in Private Road Access to the Water

Sharing an access road or right of way with other property owners occasionally causes conflict, as in a recent Massachusetts real estate action.  The parties in the case owned adjacent lots in a residential subdivision that bordered a lake.  In a January 17, 2019 decision, the Land Court was presented with the question of whether and to what extent the parties had property rights in, or ownership of, a right of way easement leading to the lake.

The defendant in the case owned a lot in the same subdivision as the plaintiffs.  He used the right of way regularly to access the lake, and had made improvements to it, such as re-grading a sloped section and installing a portable, metal dock.  The co-plaintiffs filed the action seeking to clear title and for a declaratory judgment with respect to their ownership rights in the way.  They presented multiple, alternative theories to the court to establish their claims.

Ultimately, the plaintiffs prevailed on their claim that they owned the right of way up to the centerline, by operation of the Derelict Fee Statute.  Pursuant to the Massachusetts Derelict Fee Statute, a deed that conveys a piece of land abutting a way includes ownership of the way up to the centerline, unless otherwise expressed in the deed.  If the property on the other side of the way is conveyed as well, the full width of the way is conveyed.

After reviewing the deeds of both the plaintiffs lots, the Land Court found that the Derelict Fee Statute applied, and that no express reservation or exclusion prevented application of it.  Accordingly, the court concluded that one plaintiff owned the southern portion of the way to the centerline, while the other plaintiff owned the northern portion of the way to the centerline.

The Land Court went on to find that the defendant possessed some rights in the way through an express easement.  The deed to the defendant’s property granted him an easement to use the right of way to access the lake.  As such, re-sloping the road was within the scope of his rights to make reasonable repairs to the way.  The court also rejected the plaintiffs’ arguments that the defendant was overburdening the easement by driving vehicles on the way, finding no basis that the easement was limited to pedestrian travel.  However, the court enjoined the defendant’s guests from parking or driving on the way, and ruled that they were only permitted to use the way by foot.  By clearly outlining the parties’ rights and ownership in the final judgment, the Land Court provided an order that may help the parties avoid further disputes.

At Pulgini & Norton, our Massachusetts real estate attorneys provide trustworthy advice to individuals regarding their residential property.  We can assist in any legal matter concerning your home, from financing and purchasing to title actions and building permits.  Request a consultation with one of our lawyers by calling (781) 990-2200 or submitting our online contact form.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Landowner Files Action Alleging Neighbor Has Overburdened Easement, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published July 17, 2018

Massachusetts Court Finds Easement Holders Lack Right to Pave Gravel Road Over Owner’s Objection, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published December 12, 2018

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