Massachusetts Court Concludes Town Abandoned Easement over Path on Homeowners’ Property

For many homeowners, an unexpected legal claim against their property is unsettling.  A Massachusetts real estate attorney can explain the options available and represent homeowners in the proceedings.  In an April 6, 2018 case, homeowners sought to prevent the town from using a path on their property to reach a local pond.  The homeowners argued that any easement held by the town to use the path had been abandoned.

The homeowners in the case owned property in a subdivision that was laid out on a plan recorded in 1914.  That plan, however, had virtually no relationship with how the area actually developed.  Many of the lots were combined into larger parcels before houses were built on them, while others were made a part of extensive conservation areas.  As a result, many of the roadways on the plan were never built or used, such as the path across the plaintiffs’ property.

The path at issue had never been used as a right of way to the pond by anyone, since the path was located on the plaintiffs’ front lawn, used as part of their driveway, and partially blocked by a stone wall.  Nevertheless, the town, which had always used other routes to reach the pond, contended it had the right to use the path for access to the pond.  The town’s claimed right of access was based solely on the 1914 subdivision plan.

In Massachusetts, the abandonment of an easement is a question of intention ascertained from the surrounding circumstances and the conduct of the parties.  Non-use of the easement, by itself, does not prove abandonment, but it may be one of many factors that, when taken together, show an intent to abandon the easement.  Specifically, non-use together with a failure to object to actions that would be inconsistent with the existence of an easement over the plaintiffs’ land, particularly when the defendant has knowledge of the right to use the easement, may permit an inference of abandonment.

The land court noted that the town had never used the path, nor had it asserted a right to do so until the present action.  Instead, the town acquiesced to the uses of the homeowners, failing to protest any of the many obstacles that prevented vehicular access to the path, such as the chain link fences, concrete retaining wall, barbecue, trash barrels, and landscaping.  Furthermore, the town had always used alternative routes to access the pond.  These factors, along with the non-use, led the land court to conclude that the town abandoned any easement rights it had over the path.  Accordingly, the homeowners prevailed in the action, and a judgment was entered against the defendants.

If you have concerns regarding your property rights, the Massachusetts real estate lawyers at Pulgini & Norton are prepared to help.  We have significant experience in easement and land use rights, home mortgages and financing, zoning rules, and many other areas of residential property law.  Contact Pulgini & Norton by phone at (781) 843-2200 or online to arrange an appointment today.

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

Property Owner and Massachusetts Town Clash Over Easement Rights in Real Estate Case, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published October 16, 2017

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