Massachusetts Court Rules Restrictions on Subdivision Lots Subject to Thirty-Year Limitation

Restrictions, often known as covenants, bind landowners to specific provisions concerning their property.  In a December 5, 2017 Massachusetts real estate case, the Appeals Court considered whether certain restrictions on land had expired, or whether the restrictions had been legally and effectively extended.  The plaintiffs in the case filed an action seeking to enforce the restrictions against the defendants.  After the lower court concluded they had expired and ruled in favor of the defendants, the plaintiffs appealed.

The original developer of the land had executed and recorded an agreement providing protective covenants and easements for future owners of the lots in 1980.  Thereafter, the developer sold off the lots, subject to the agreement that limited construction on each lot to one single-family dwelling with a two- or three-car garage, for a period of 30 years.  The agreement also provided that the covenants may be amended or revoked by the agreement of two-thirds of all of the owners of the lots.

In 2001, more than two-thirds of the lot owners executed an agreement to extend the covenants until 2010, and they recorded the extension in 2002.  The agreement also provided that the covenants could be extended for further periods of not more than 20 years by the agreement of two-thirds of the lot owners.  When the plaintiffs filed their action to enforce the restrictions, the defendants argued in response that the restrictions expired in 2010, after 30 years.

In Massachusetts, restrictions on land are generally disfavored, and the Legislature has enacted statutes that allow landowners to remove or prevent the enforcement of obsolete, uncertain, or unenforceable restrictions.  Consequently, the law generally limits the enforcement of restrictions to a period of 30 years, and it requires landowners who wish to impose longer restrictions to comply with specific steps.  Land use restrictions that contain no durational limit, therefore, are subject to a 30-year time limitation on them.

The restrictions in the case were part of a common scheme of more than four parcels of land, and thus they may be enforceable after 30 years as long as a provision is made in the agreement imposing extensions for further periods of not more than 20 years at a time and recorded before the expiration of the 30 years or any earlier date of termination specified.

After analyzing the language of the statute, the appeals court held that, pursuant to the terms of the statute, in order to impose a restriction for more than 30 years, the original agreement creating the restriction had to include the provision for extensions.  Accordingly, the mechanism for the extension of the restrictive covenants could not be added by a subsequent agreement.  Since the original agreement at issue in the case did not include the extension language, and since the later agreement was ineffective, the court held that the property was no longer subject to any restrictions, since they had expired in 2010.

A real estate lawyer can identify any restrictions on the use or development of property you own or wish to purchase.  At Pulgini & Norton, our Massachusetts land use attorneys have substantial experience handling residential real estate matters, including mortgages and refinancing, building permits and zoning laws, title actions, and more.  Schedule an appointment to discuss your issue with a property law attorney by calling (781) 843-2200 or submitting our contact form online.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Landowners Successfully Challenge Permit Issued for Housing Development Next to Their Property, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published September 19, 2016

Massachusetts Homeowners Operating Commercial Dog Breeding Business Found Incompatible with Deed Restrictions, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published January 9, 2017

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