Massachusetts Appeals Court Finds Reasonable Use of Property Defeats Nuisance Claim

In a recent decision, the Appeals Court of Massachusetts reviewed a real estate dispute involving a nuisance claim between neighboring property owners. In Maffei v. Johnson (Mass. App. Ct. Feb. 19, 2016), a landowner (who had since died) had filled and leveled a portion of his property over many years. The plaintiff owned the neighboring property and brought suit against the landowner’s estate, alleging that the filling stopped the flow of water from the plaintiff’s land onto the decedent’s land and resulted in the accumulation of water on one part of the plaintiff’s property. The judge held a trial on the plaintiff’s nuisance claim and concluded that the decedent’s actions were reasonable and that his estate was not liable for nuisance. The plaintiff subsequently appealed that decision.

In Maffei, the decedent had built a garage on his property which he backfilled against the foundation. After the garage was constructed, the decedent began filling and leveling the area in the front and to the left of the garage. He also leveled the left side of his property. The plaintiff noticed that after the decedent added the fill, water originating from the plaintiff’s property increasingly accumulated in the corner of his lot over an area of approximately 4,500 square feet. The water accumulation did not interfere with the plaintiff’s house or driveway.

Liability for a private nuisance caused by the flow of surface water from one person’s property to that of an adjoining landowner depends on whether that person is making a reasonable use of his property, according to Massachusetts law. Under the reasonable use doctrine, every landowner is legally allowed to make a reasonable use of his property, even if the flow of surface water is altered and causes some harm to others. Reasonableness is a question of fact, based on consideration of many relevant factors. These include the amount of harm caused, the foreseeability of the harm that results, the purposes or motive of the landowner, and other considerations. In addition, the fact finder must also consider whether the utility of the landowner’s use of his property outweighs the harm caused by his alteration of the flow of surface waters.

On appeal, the court noted that the decedent had constructed the garage and leveled his property with fill in order to store construction equipment used for his business. The court also found that any flooding occurred on a small portion of the plaintiff’s eight-acre property and did not adversely affect his ability to use his home or driveway. As such, the court affirmed the decision of the judge finding in favor of the defendant.

If you are involved in a property dispute, an experienced real estate attorney can advise you as to your options and represent you in any legal proceedings. The seasoned real estate attorneys at Pulgini & Norton provide legal guidance to clients in a wide range of property law issues in Massachusetts, including land use and zoning issues, easements, closings, mortgages, and many other transactions. To consult with one of our knowledgeable attorneys, call (781) 843-2200 or contact us online.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Land Owners Establish Prescriptive Easement to Use Driveway on Neighbors’ Land, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published November 24, 2015

Massachusetts Land Court Rules on Issues of Adverse Possession and Prescriptive Easement, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published December 15, 2015


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