Landowners File Cross-Claims for Adverse Possession and Quiet Title in Massachusetts Real Estate Case

A dispute between the title owner of a piece of land and an adverse possessor of land may be settled by the court in an action before the Massachusetts Land Court.  In a July 18, 2018 Massachusetts real estate case, the plaintiff sought to quiet title in the face of adverse possession assertions made by the defendants.  The defendants then counter-claimed with a suit for adverse possession of the parcel.  The matter went to trial and was decided by the land court.

The parcel at issue in the case was a vacant, one acre piece of land in Massachusetts.  The parties did not dispute that the plaintiff was the record owner of the parcel.  The central question in the case was whether the defendants had adversely possessed all or a portion of the one acre parcel.  In Massachusetts, title by adverse possession can be acquired only by proof of non-permissive use, which is actual, open, notorious, exclusive and adverse for twenty years.  The person claiming adverse possession, i.e., the defendants in the case, had the burden to prove that each of these elements continued uninterrupted for a period of at least twenty years.

The defendants had openly cultivated and farmed a significant portion of the parcel from 1992 to 2007.  The land court found, however, there was no evidence or testimony that the farming activity had continued past that.  Accordingly, the court held that the defendants’ farming activities, which continued uninterrupted for at most 16 yeas, was not sufficient to prove the twenty years required to establish title by adverse possession.

The land court next considered the plaintiff’s action to quiet his title to the parcel.  The court affirmed that the plaintiff had the burden of establishing the sufficiency of his own title, not just the weaknesses or non-existence of the defendants’ claim for adverse possession.  Therefore, the court explained, the plaintiff was required to provide affirmative proof of his record title to the parcel, including the instrument of record that vested the plaintiff with ownership in the parcel.  The plaintiff did not do so.  Instead, the plaintiff relied exclusively on his 1984 deed to show his title to the parcel at issue.  While the 1984 deed described the conveyance of land to the plaintiff, it identified the parcel as being located in a different city.  The plaintiff did not offer an explanation for the discrepancy, nor provide evidence of a scrivener’s error, nor expert testimony from a title examiner or land surveyor.  The court noted that such evidence may have assisted the plaintiff’s case.  Instead, the court denied both the defendants’ claim for adverse possession and the plaintiff’s quiet title action.

The Massachusetts property attorneys at Pulgini & Norton assist homeowners and others with residential real estate issues.  If you are seeking experienced legal representation regarding mortgage refinancing, building permit applications, land use and zoning regulations, or any other property matter, we may be able to advise you.  Call (781) 843-2200 or contact us online to arrange a free legal consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Homeowners Acquire Ownership Rights to Portion of Neighbor’s Lot, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published November 27, 2017

Massachusetts Land Court Finds No Right of Way to Access Landlocked Parcel, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published April 25, 2016


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