Massachusetts Appeals Court Holds Record Land Owners May Be Liable to Adverse Possessors for Trespass

Neighboring landowners often find themselves in boundary disputes regarding their property lines. In a recent decision, the Appeals Court of Massachusetts determined the issues of whether the plaintiffs had gained title to an area of property through adverse possession, and if so, whether they could hold the record landowners liable for trespass onto the parcel in dispute. In Owens v. Buccheri, 89 Mass. App. Ct. 1115 (2016), the land court determined that the plaintiffs established adverse possession of an area of which the defendants held record title. Although the defendants did enter the area to excavate and cut down trees, the land court judge declined to impose liability for trespass on a property of which they held record title. The plaintiffs appealed, contending that the judge erred in denying their trespass and nuisance claims.

In Massachusetts, title by adverse possession can be acquired only by proof of nonpermissive use that is actual, open, notorious, exclusive, and adverse for 20 years. The plaintiffs argued that since they adversely possessed the disputed area, they could maintain a trespass action against even the record title owner. The appeals court agreed, finding that the plaintiffs successfully established adverse possession of the land many years prior to the defendants’ entry. The court noted that the plaintiff’s testimony describing the nonpermissive and continuous activities of her now-deceased parents during her youth demonstrated that the period of adverse possession began sometime in 1969.

In 2008, the defendants asserted record title and cut down trees on the disputed land. The court held that as the owners of the disputed area by adverse possession, the plaintiffs are entitled to bring their trespass claims against the defendants. The court went on to explain that once the statutory period of 20 years for adverse possession runs, the adverse possessor becomes the lawful, actual possessor and the new owner entitled to bring a claim against even the record title owners. The court found that despite the defendants’ argument that they had insufficient notice of the plaintiffs’ trespass claims, the plaintiffs’ actual, open, and notorious use of the land should have put any observer, including the record title owner, on notice of the adverse possession and the possessor’s accompanying property rights. Therefore, the defendants no longer retained their right to lawfully enter onto or disturb the disputed area. The court reversed the judgment of the land court and remanded for a determination of liability and what damages, if any, are appropriate.

If you have concerns regarding your rights in property or boundary disputes, seeking legal guidance from a qualified attorney may be advantageous. At the Massachusetts firm of Pulgini & Norton, our dedicated real estate attorneys represent clients in a variety of property matters, including adverse possession, land use and zoning issues, easements, and other land transactions. To discuss your real estate needs with one of our experienced lawyers, call (781) 843-2200 or contact us online.

More Blog Posts:

Appeals Court of Massachusetts Decides Easement Issue in Neighbors’ Dispute, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published September 4, 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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