Massachusetts Beachfront Property Owners Take Legal Action to Determine Location of Right of Way Easement

An easement is the legal right to a particular, limited use of property by someone other than the owner of the property.  In some cases, the existence of an easement may become unclear after the property has passed down through different owners over many years.  In a February 23, 2018 opinion, the appeals court considered a Massachusetts real estate action involving the plaintiffs’ claim to a right of way easement over the defendants’ land to access a main road.

The plaintiffs in the case owned a four-acre oceanfront parcel of land.  The first mention of the easement at issue was in a 1927 deed, through which the original grantor conveyed a portion of his land.  That portion was eventually owned by the plaintiffs.  The 1927 deed included an easement consisting of a right of way from the north side of the parcel to “Beach Road.”  The easement appeared with the same language in each subsequent deed conveying the parcel of land, but it was not precisely identified.  Through other deeds in 1927, the original grantor also conveyed the property currently owned by the defendants, which contained a way to access Beach Road.

In 1999, the plaintiffs divided their parcel into two lots and sold one of them to a third party.  However, the plaintiffs did not expressly reserve a right of way over the lot they sold.  Subsequently, a dispute arose over the location of the 1927 easement.  The plaintiffs alleged that the easement began at a point on the road that adjoins their property and crosses over the defendant’s land to meet Beach Road.  The defendants argued that the right of way began from the lot no longer owned by the plaintiffs.

In Massachusetts, to determine the existence and placement of a right of way, the courts will look at the intention of the parties in creating the easement, as determined from the language of the conveying documents or deed and in light of the circumstances surrounding the execution of the documents, the physical condition of the premises, and the knowledge that the parties had or should have had.

The appeals court concluded that the deeds and relevant documents did not clearly locate the easement at or near a point on the plaintiffs’ former parcel, as decided by the lower court.  Instead, the court held that the 1927 deed was ambiguous because its meaning as to the right of way was uncertain and susceptible to multiple interpretations.  The court explained that the deed should be construed against the grantor, and as a result, the easement was located at or very near to a point located on the plaintiffs’ current parcel.  Finding insufficient evidence to determine the exact location of the easement, the court remanded the issue to the lower court.

The Massachusetts real estate lawyers at Pulgini & Norton can work with residential property owners and home buyers to advance their goals.  Consult our team for assistance with mortgage refinancing, building permit applications, title actions, real estate contracts, and other residential property matters.  Our office is available to schedule your appointment by phone at (781) 843-2200 or through our website.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Plaintiff Seeks to Enforce Greater Easement Rights Against Town in Property Action, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published September 11, 2017

Massachusetts Homeowner Brings Action Against Neighbor to Enforce Zoning Law, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published August 21, 2017

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