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Massachusetts Homeowner Argues Deed Restrictions on Her Property Are Against Public Policy

A deed restriction may significantly affect one’s enjoyment of their own property by prohibiting certain uses, activities, or construction.  The plaintiff in an April 26, 2018 Massachusetts land use case challenged a deed restriction imposed on her property in the Massachusetts Land Court.  She sought a declaration that some of the deed restrictions were invalid, alleging that they violated public policy by imposing an unreasonable restraint.  The defendant in the case was the City of Boston.

In 1991, the City sold the lot to the prior owner as part of a program in which it conveyed small parcels of land to abutting Boston residents, subject to deed restrictions.  The open-space restriction required that the property be used and maintained for open space purposes, such as gardening, landscaping, and off-street residential parking.  The no-build restriction prohibited the construction or installation of structures on the lot, with only one exception for an addition to the existing dwelling on the abutting lot.  The purpose of the program and deed restrictions was to retain the public benefits of open space as well as preserving reasonable density in Boston neighborhoods.

In connection with the deed, the prior owner executed a mortgage on the property, which required the written consent of the City in order to assign it to a successive owner and secured the owner’s compliance with the restrictions.  In 2010, the City gave its consent to the conveyance of the property to the plaintiff.  The deed set forth the same restrictions but expressly provided that they were for the benefit of the City of Boston.  The plaintiff also granted a mortgage at that time, in which she agreed to the restrictions.

In Massachusetts, a restriction that acts as a restraint on the sale and transfer of property may be reasonable if the utility of the restraint outweighs the harm of enforcing the restraint.  In the case, the Land Court found that the restrictions imposed by the City were reasonable because they served a worthwhile purpose and affected only a small number of abutting owners who purchased land.

A restriction on property may also be valid even if it severely reduces the value of the property, as long as there is some rational justification for the restriction.  The Land Court concluded that the purposes of the restrictions to preserve open space and reasonable density were rational and permissible in this instance, in which the plaintiff paid only one dollar of consideration and was permitted to build within the open space, should she decide to add on to her residential structure.  The court also ruled that the difference between the original deed and the plaintiff’s deed, which provided that the restrictions are for the benefit of the City rather than the owners of the abutting parcel, was not material nor misleading.  Accordingly, the court found in favor of the City, holding that the restrictions did not offend public policy.

The Massachusetts land use attorneys at Pulgini & Norton can provide comprehensive advice regarding residential property restrictions.  We also assist individuals in obtaining home financing, applying for building permits and variances, and completing many other property transactions.  Schedule an appointment with an experienced real estate lawyer online or call (781) 843-2200.

More Blog Posts:

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

Massachusetts Court Rules Restrictions on Subdivision Lots Subject to Thirty-Year Limitation, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published December 4, 2017

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