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Massachusetts Court Finds Easement Holders Lack Right to Pave Gravel Road Over Owner’s Objection

Individuals seeking to improve a private road will generally need the consent of the owner, even if they have some property rights to use the road.  In a December 4, 2018 Massachusetts real estate case, the plaintiffs initiated legal action against the defendant in Land Court after he refused to allow them to pave the sole road providing access to the parties’ homes.  The defendant did not dispute that the plaintiffs held some type of an easement to use the road; however, he argued that they did not have the right to pave the road over his objection.

The parties owned seasonal homes on a secluded peninsula, which were accessible via one gravel-surfaced, private roadway.  The defendant was the fee owner of the gravel road, which was located on his property.  The roadway led to the plaintiffs’ house and continued past the defendant’s own house, serving a total of ten homes on the peninsula.  The plaintiffs wished to pave the road for easier travel and less damage to their vehicles, and because they believed it was a reasonable improvement.  The defendant believed that paving the road was unnecessary, and argued that doing so would worsen the road drainage problems, lead to non-residents’ use of the private road, allow cars to drive faster through the area, and overall change the feel of the small neighborhood.

Following a trial, the Land Court found that the plaintiffs had a prescriptive easement.  Their prescriptive easement was created by continued use of the road for the required statutory period.  Accordingly, the extent of their easement was limited to the use through which it was created, i.e., travel to and from their house.

The court went on to explain that the holder of an easement over an existing road is entitled to make reasonable repairs and improvements to the roadway, so long as there is due regard to the rights and interests of others.  Whether improvements made are reasonable in view of the equal rights of others, is largely a question of fact.

The Land Court found that the current graveled road was properly maintained and provided suitable access to fulfill the purpose of the plaintiffs’ easement.  As such, the plaintiffs were not materially prejudiced if the road remained in its graveled state.  The court also agreed that the defendant’s objections were the logical and likely consequences of paving the road.  Concluding that paving the road was not a reasonable improvement that could be imposed over the defendant’s wishes, the court denied the plaintiffs’ claim.

If you are seeking legal counsel for a residential property issue, the Massachusetts real estate attorneys at Pulgini & Norton can help.  We have assisted many homeowners in reaching their goals by providing trustworthy advice and creative solutions.  Call Pulgini & Norton at (781) 990-2200 or contact us online to schedule your consultation with an experienced residential real estate lawyer.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Landowner Files Action Alleging Neighbor Has Overburdened Easement, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published July 17, 2018

Massachusetts Homeowners Succeed in Action Against Developer to Oppose Access Road Through Their Property, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published September 12, 2018

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