Massachusetts Appeals Court Decides Issue of First Impression in Beachfront Property Dispute

Beachfront property can involve interesting legal issues as a result of changing shorelines. Accretion occurs when the line between water and land is changed by the gradual deposit of alluvial soil upon the margin of the water. In a recent real estate case, Brown v. Kalicki (Mass. App. Ct. Oct. 20, 2016), the Appeals Court of Massachusetts addressed the question of whether accreted beachfront took on the status of registered land as it formed, or whether registered status must be obtained by amending the title in court proceedings.

In Brown, the plaintiff’s land was originally registered in the 1920s and 1930s. The boundary line was identified in the certificate of title as the Nantucket Sound. In the decades following registration, the size of the parcels grew substantially as a result of accretion. The plaintiffs filed a petition to establish their respective ownership rights in the accreted land. The defendants intervened in the action, claiming that they acquired prescriptive easements to use the beach area on the plaintiffs’ land. The plaintiffs responded that, pursuant to Massachusetts statute, the defendants could not obtain prescriptive rights in registered land. After the land court found in favor of the plaintiffs, the defendants appealed.

On appeal, the court examined many justifications for the holding. First, it noted that parcels with littoral boundaries, as in Brown, frequently change, so the actual boundaries rarely correspond exactly with what is on the registered title, e.g., “Nantucket Sound.” The appeals court observed that if littoral land is not deemed registered upon its creation, property owners would need to amend their certificates of title on a regular basis to prevent any loss in their property rights due to adverse use by another party. The court reasoned that this result would be inconsistent with one of the principal purposes of the registration system, that is, to make titles certain and indefeasible. In addition, automatically endowing the accreted land with registered status would counterbalance the downside of owning littoral property, which is losing the right to land that erodes away. This rationale led the court to hold that registered status is conferred upon accreted land without the need for additional court proceedings.

In holding that accretions to registered littoral land automatically acquire registered status at the time of their creation, the appeals court concluded that the plaintiffs’ accreted beach area was therefore entitled to the protection afforded by registration. As a result, and in keeping with Massachusetts statutes, the defendants could not pursue their claim to use registered land via prescriptive right.

It can be advantageous to obtain accurate legal advice if you are involved in a property transaction or dispute. At the Massachusetts firm of Pulgini & Norton, our land use attorneys provide trusted guidance to individuals in all areas of real estate law, such as mortgages and foreclosures, property tax, zoning, permits, and more. If you would like more information regarding your property issue, schedule a consultation by contacting Pulgini & Norton by phone at (781) 843-2200 or through our website.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Appeals Court Holds Plaintiff’s Adjacent Lots Merged with Common Ownership in Zoning Case, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published July 26, 2016

Massachusetts Landowners Successfully Challenge Permit Issued for Housing Development Next to Their Property, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published September 19, 2016

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