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Massachusetts Adverse Possession Claim Defeated After Record Owner Files Petition to Register Title

To succeed in a Massachusetts adverse possession claim, the claimant must prove all of the elements required to establish his or her claim to a particular portion of land.  In a January 19, 2018 case, the land court considered a claim of adverse possession by an abutting landowner and claims to confirm title initially filed by a mobile home park company and followed by a substitute petitioner.  The history of the legal proceedings made it difficult to determine whether the landowner had established continuous possession of the area for the requisite period.

The mobile home company had commenced the original action in 1995, seeking to confirm title.  That action remained pending until, due to a dispute concerning whether the landowner had been properly served with the petition, special notice was sent to the landowner in 2006.  The landowner filed an answer, claiming title to a portion of the land based on adverse possession.  His claim was based on acts of adverse possession beginning in 1985, after he purchased his property.  The action continued to remain pending until 2018, when it came before the land court.

In Massachusetts, adverse possession can be acquired by proof of non-permissive use that is actual, open, notorious, exclusive, and adverse for a 20-year period.  The burden is on the party claiming adverse possession to provide clear proof of each element.  In the case, the landowner alleged that he staked a perimeter around his property, which included the land at issue, when he purchased the property in 1985.  He also planted trees in that area to be sold as Christmas trees, cleared land, allowed hunters to use the property, informed others the land was his, and posted no trespassing signs.  His activities continued to the time of the land court’s decision.

The only element in dispute was whether the landowner’s occupation and use of the land was for the statutory period of 20 years.  In Massachusetts, filing a petition to register title to land immediately interrupts the adverse possession of that land.  The land court analyzed case law for the rationale behind the rule, finding that the date the petition was filed is crucial because by asserting a title claim of ownership, the record owner is signaling that it is no longer acquiescing to the adverse possession of its land.

The court went on to explain that the lack of notice to the landowner is only relevant if it indicates that the record owner did not truly intend to assert its rights to the property.  In examining the record, the court found no evidence that the mobile home park or its successor lacked the intent to pursue a title claim, noting that some activity had taken place in the case at least once a year.  Accordingly, the court concluded that the period of adverse possession by the landowner beginning in 1985 was interrupted as of the filing date in 1995, rather than the date he was provided notice in 2006.  Since it was short of the 20-year requirement, the landowner’s claim for adverse possession was dismissed.

If you are considering legal action in a residential property dispute, the Massachusetts real estate attorneys at Pulgini & Norton can assist you.  We handle cases involving land use regulations, easements, residential home purchases, mortgage refinancing, and many other property-related issues.  Contact our office at (781) 843-2200 or online to arrange a free consultation with one of our property lawyers.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Land Court Explains Requirements for Acquiring Wooded Land by Adverse Possession, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published April 17, 2017

Massachusetts Landowner Establishes Title to Fenced, Neighboring Property by Adverse Possession, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published March 7, 2016

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