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Massachusetts Court Recognizes Easement But Holds Defendants Have No Rights in It

In Massachusetts, a right of way easement may be legally recognized or established in different ways.  In an August 10, 2018 case, adjacent property owners brought their dispute regarding a right of way easement before the Massachusetts Land Court.  The defendants in the case claimed the right to use a right of way located on the plaintiff’s property.  The plaintiff argued that the defendants had no right to the easement because the right of way was not specifically mentioned in the plaintiff’s certificate of title.

In Massachusetts, a person with a certificate of title to property receives the property free from all encumbrances except those noted on the certificate.  Registered land, therefore, generally cannot be burdened with an easement unless it is shown on the certificate of title.

A property owner may, however, take property subject to an unregistered easement under two narrow exceptions.  First, registered property may be encumbered by an easement if there are facts described on a certificate of title which would prompt a reasonable purchaser to investigate the issue further, such as by examining other certificates, documents, or plans in the registry system.  Second, registered property may be subject to an easement where the purchaser has actual knowledge of a prior unregistered interest, such as an easement.

In the case, the easement was not registered on the plaintiff’s certificate of title.  However, at the time the plaintiff received the property, the most recent transfer certificate of title referenced a plan.  The plan had been properly filed with the property county record and depicted the right of way easement on the plaintiff’s property.  Further investigation would have led the plaintiff to another document containing the original reservation of the right of way by the grantor, putting the plaintiff on notice of the defendants’ right to use the easement.  Accordingly, the court held that by failing to investigate the plan expressly referenced in the certificate, the plaintiff took his land subject to the unregistered easement.

Nevertheless, the court went on to find that the defendants could not use the right of way.  In Massachusetts, an easement cannot be imposed by deed to benefit another person who has no interest in the burdened land.  The easement at issue was reserved when the original grantor transferred some of his property to another person, retaining use of the right of way located on the transferred property to benefit property retained by the grantor.  The grantor also purported to reserve the easement for the benefit of adjacent land owned by his wife.  The court held the conveyance was ineffective to reserve an easement, as the wife had no interest in the land that was transferred.  Thus, the defendants could not benefit from the right of way, as they were the current owners of the grantor’s wife’s property.

If you have an issue regarding an easement or property boundary lines, the Massachusetts real estate attorneys at Pulgini & Norton can provide legal guidance.  We have significant experience handling property disputes, title actions, and many other residential real estate matters.  Arrange a free consultation to address your issue by calling our office at (781) 990-2200 or contacting us online.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Beachfront Property Owners Take Legal Action to Determine Location of Right of Way Easement, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published June 6, 2018

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

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