Massachusetts Court Rules in Property Dispute Involving Deed Restrictions

A Massachusetts Land Court recently decided an easement dispute involving deed restrictions and the overburdening of a right of way in the case of Stepanian v. Saraceno (Mass. Land Ct. Jan. 5, 2016). In 1985, the grantor subdivided his waterfront property and sold the resulting vacant lot (244) next to his existing home, reserving for his remaining land a driveway easement and a right of way over a private way, and restricting the use of a portion of the new vacant lot. Specifically, the vacant lot was subject to a “buffer zone” restriction, which was to remain in effect for a period of 30 years from the date of the deed. The restriction also provided that the buffer zone was to be forever kept substantially in its natural vegetative state.

The defendants purchased the vacant lot at issue in 1985. The defendants constructed a house on the property, as well as a parking lot in the buffer zone, to which the grantor objected but took no further action. The grantor sold his adjacent property to the plaintiffs in 1993. In 1996, the plaintiffs made plans to raze the house on the property, and they approached the defendants to secure their agreement not to object to the construction of a new house. In a 1996 letter, the plaintiffs confirmed that agreement, and they also confirmed that the plaintiffs had no objection to the defendants’ use of the parking spaces within the easement area. Since 1996, the defendants have continued to install plantings in the buffer zone, added a retaining wall, and made improvements to the parking area and other parts of the buffer zone.

In 2010, the plaintiffs filed an action seeking enforcement of the deed restrictions on the buffer zone, as well as damages for past violations. The Land Court held that a prior court decision correctly found that the buffer zone restrictions had expired as of the date of its decision. Although the deed restriction provided that the buffer zone was to be kept forever in a vegetative state, the restriction was unlimited as to time and therefore limited as a matter of law to 30 years, as provided by G.L. c. 184, § 23. The Land Court also noted that the 1996 agreement, as well as the legal principle of promissory estoppel, prevented the plaintiffs from denying the agreement in which they waived enforcement of the restrictions on the buffer zone.

Finally, the court addressed the argument of the plaintiffs that the defendants’ construction of two stone columns on the driveway overburdened the right of way, or easement. The court agreed that the easement had not expired, nor was the driveway within the buffer zone. However, the court found that the plaintiffs failed to provide any evidence that the columns interfered with their enjoyment and use of the right of way. Accordingly, the court ruled against the plaintiffs, holding that the restrictions in the buffer zone had expired, that the plaintiffs were estopped from enforcement of the buffer zone restrictions due to the 1996 letter, and that they failed to prove any overburdening of the driveway by reason of the stone columns.

The experienced real estate attorneys at Pulgini & Norton provide legal guidance to clients in a wide range of property law issues in Massachusetts, including easements, land use and zoning issues, closings, mortgages, and many other transactions. To consult with one of our skilled attorneys, call (781) 843-2200 or contact us online.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Land Owners Establish Prescriptive Easement to Use Driveway on Neighbors’ Land, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published November 24, 2015

Massachusetts Land Court Rules on Issues of Adverse Possession and Prescriptive Easement, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published December 15, 2015

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