Massachusetts Homeowner Seeks to Remove Building Restrictions Imposed by Property Deed

There are several ways in which limitations may be imposed in Massachusetts property rights matters.  Some examples include local zoning bylaws, which may regulate aspects such as how far a structure must be set back from the street, and public easements, which may prevent the property owner from blocking off access with a privacy fence.  Deed restrictions are another means by which property use may be restricted, as in a September 12, 2019 Massachusetts property case decided by the Appeals Court.

The prior owner of the plaintiff’s land had received property from the city as part of its “Yard Sale” program.  Through the program, the city conveyed vacant lots to the owners of the abutting property, subject to an open space restriction.  Accordingly, the deed required that the land be used for open space purposes and prohibited construction of new structures on the lot.  The owners of the restricted lots were, however, allowed to build an addition on the house located on their original lot.

When the plaintiff purchased the lot from the prior owner in 2010, the deed conveying the property contained the same building restrictions.  Seeking to remove the restriction, the plaintiff filed an action for a declaratory judgment in Land Court, seeking to remove a restriction placed on her property.  The plaintiff argued that the deed restrictions violated public policy because they imposed an unreasonable restraint on alienation.  The Land Court disagreed and granted summary judgment against the plaintiff; the matter then came before the appeals court.

In Massachusetts, a reasonable restriction on property may be enforced.  The court will consider the following factors in determining whether a restraint is reasonable: (1) the party imposing the restriction has some interest in the property, which is protected by the enforcement of the restriction; (2) the restriction is limited in duration; (3) enforcement of the restriction accomplishes a worthwhile purpose; (4) the prohibited conveyances are unlikely to be employed by the party subject to the restriction; (5) the number of people to whom alienation is prohibited is small.

On appeal, the court agreed with the lower court that the restraint was reasonable.  The court found that the city had an interest in the property, and that the purpose of the open space restriction was to benefit the public and preserve the density of city neighborhoods.  Although the restriction was not limited in duration, the parties could negotiate a different agreement.  The court also noted that the restriction did not prohibit all building on the property, in that it allowed the plaintiff to construct an addition to her home.  Accordingly, after considering the evidence in light of the legal factors, the court ruled that the restraint imposed by the deed restriction was reasonable.

At Pulgini & Norton, we can help you avoid setbacks as you work towards your real estate objectives.  Our Massachusetts property rights lawyers assist people in a range of residential real estate matters, such as home purchase and sale agreements, land use regulations, restrictive covenants, easements, title actions, foreclosure proceedings, and more.  Schedule a free consultation with a real estate attorney at Pulgini & Norton by calling (781) 843-2200 or contacting us online.

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