A poorly delineated property boundary in a densely populated neighborhood is a condition that often causes tension between neighbors. This situation is what eventually led to the dispute between a business condominium association and a residential homeowner in a November 19, 2018 Massachusetts real estate case. The defendant in the case lived behind the plaintiffs’ building, which was occupied by four commercial businesses.
A cinder block wall erected by the defendant’s father in 1976 had given rise to the misunderstandings that formed the basis of the dispute. To delineate the higher grade of the driveway and prevent vehicles from falling off the side, the defendant’s father had made a wall with cinder blocks and stacked railroad ties. The wall, however, had the appearance of a boundary fence. The plaintiffs’ building was constructed thereafter, in 1981. A land survey had recently confirmed that the defendant was the record owner of a narrow, triangular strip of land near the back of the plaintiffs’ property. The plaintiffs then filed an action in Land Court for adverse possession, claiming ownership of the strip.
In Massachusetts, title by adverse possession can only be acquired with proof of nonpermissive use which is actual, open, notorious, exclusive, and adverse for an uninterrupted period of twenty years. After hearing testimony from witnesses and viewing the disputed area, the Land Court concluded that the plaintiffs had not established adverse possession of the entire disputed area. The court explained that although a fence is ordinarily sufficient to demonstrate an adverse enclosure of land, the cinder block wall did not run the full length of the boundary, nor did it block any access to the disputed area. The court also noted that the defendant regularly went over the wall for materials that he stored in the disputed area.
The court went on to find that the plaintiffs’ uses of the disputed area were insufficient to put the defendant on notice of their exclusive domination. Most of the activities cited by the plaintiffs in support of their claim were those of a day care located in its building. The court held that children running over a property line while playing or wet clothing drying on the cinder block wall were not adverse in nature, and even if so, the defendant’s request that the clothing be removed interrupted the plaintiffs’ use.
Although the plaintiffs failed to establish adverse possession over the entire area, the Land Court did rule that the plaintiffs had acquired a small section of the area by adverse possession, which was occupied by a shed that the plaintiffs had used for storage for the past twenty years. In so doing, the plaintiffs also established a prescriptive easement to access that area.
At Pulgini & Norton, our real estate lawyers can provide guidance regarding any Massachusetts residential property issue. We handle a range of real estate matters, including title actions, home purchases and sales, mortgage financings, and land use. Request an appointment with a qualified real estate attorney by calling (781) 843-2200 or contacting Pulgini & Norton online.
More Blog Posts:
Massachusetts Homeowners Acquire Ownership Rights to Portion of Neighbor’s Lot, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published November 27, 2017
Massachusetts Plaintiff Prevails on Appeal in Adverse Possession Claim Over Walled-In Patio Area, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published July 3, 2017