In Massachusetts, there are two systems of tracking property title records. Recorded land makes up the majority of property title record keeping, while a smaller percentage of properties in Massachusetts are governed by the registered land system. Massachusetts guarantees title to registered land and as such, the requirements to register land are stricter.
As illustrated in a June 1, 2018 Massachusetts real estate case, there are advantages to the strict protections afforded to a property owner under the land registration system. The dispute centered around the use and ownership of two parking spots in a condominium building. The prior owners of the plaintiffs’ property had entered into an easement agreement allowing them to park two vehicles on a portion of their next-door neighbors’ registered land. However, the easement agreement was not accepted for filing with the Land Court because it was not properly and fully executed, and a corrected, executed document was never registered.
In 2001, the plaintiffs purchased a condo unit with the understanding that they were acquiring an easement for the two parking spaces on the registered land next door. For the next fourteen years, the plaintiffs parked in the spaces, until the defendants purchased the next-door neighbors’ property. The plaintiff filed an action seeking to amend the certificates of title to both parties’ land to reflect a parking easement on the defendants’ property for the plaintiffs’ use.
Under the Massachusetts registered land system, no title, easement, or other right to registered land may be acquired by prescription or adverse possession or implied by necessity. There are two exceptions to this rule. If an easement is not expressly described on a certificate of title, as in the instant case, the purchasers (i.e., the defendants) might take their property subject to an easement at the time of purchase: (1) if there were facts described on the certificate of title which would prompt a reasonable purchaser to investigate further other certificates of title, documents, or plans in the registration system; or (2) if the purchasers have actual knowledge of a prior unregistered interest.
The first exception did not apply in the case because the easement agreement was never registered with the Land Court. While the defendants were aware, prior to closing on their condo, that the plaintiffs were parking in the two spaces, the issue under the second exception was whether the defendants’ acquired their property with actual knowledge that the plaintiffs had an easement for the parking space prior to the closing.
The Land Court explained that to fulfill the actual notice requirement under the second exception, there must be knowledge of prior documents, registered or unregistered, that create an easement over the disputed property. The court went on to find that, although the plaintiffs had given the defendants a copy of an easement agreement on the morning of their closing, it was an incomplete copy and provided no opportunity for actual notice to the defendants. Accordingly, the court denied the plaintiffs’ action.
If you are involved in a residential property dispute, the Massachusetts real estate lawyers at Pulgini & Norton can provide trustworthy legal advice and help you evaluate your options. We represent individuals in a variety of residential real estate matters, including title actions and adverse possession cases, foreclosure proceedings, purchase and sales agreements, and more. Request a consultation regarding your real estate concerns by calling (781) 843-2200 or contacting Pulgini & Norton online.