Massachusetts Homeowners Acquire Easement Rights Over Their Neighbors Driveway Through Prescriptive Use

If someone has interfered with your easement or property rights, you may have legal recourse.  In a September 19, 2019 Massachusetts real estate case, the plaintiffs filed an action against their neighbors in Land Court claiming that their property had the benefit of an easement over their neighbors’ property.  Specifically, the plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment from the court that they had the right to use an existing driveway on the defendants’ property to access their own property, and a restraining order enjoining the defendants from blocking the plaintiff’s access to their property.

The plaintiffs in the case asserted that their right to use the defendant’s driveway was based on a recorded easement, a prescriptive easement, and/or an easement by necessity.  With regard to the plaintiffs’ claim to a recorded easement, the court held that the deed presented in support of their argument was ineffective to create an express easement.  The court explained that, although both parties’ properties were held under common ownership originally, at the time the grantor purported to convey the right of way at issue, he did not own the defendant’s property.  As one cannot convey a property right that one does not own, the court ruled that no express easement was created by deed.

The court next addressed the plaintiffs’ claimed easement by necessity.  In Massachusetts, an easement by necessity requires the following elements: (1) unity of title; (2) severance of that unity by a conveyance; and (3) necessity arising from the severance, most often when a lot becomes landlocked.  The court noted that the deed severing the parties’ properties granted an express easement that provided access to the plaintiff’s property, although one was never constructed.  Nevertheless, the court held that the plaintiffs did not present any additional evidence that access over the defendants’ driveway was reasonably necessary.

The court did find, however, that the plaintiffs established their prescriptive easement claim.  In Massachusetts, a person may acquire a right of way easement over another person’s land with proof that their use was open, notorious, adverse to the owner, and continuous for a period of at least twenty years.  The court ruled that the undisputed evidence demonstrated that the driveway over the defendants’ property had been the sole source of access to the plaintiffs’ property since 1965, and was used by the plaintiffs and the former owners of the plaintiffs’ property and their guests hundreds of times over.  The court went on to explain that any permission allegedly given by the defendants had occurred well after the prior owners of the plaintiffs’ property had been using the driveway for 31 years and had already acquired prescriptive rights over it.  As such, the court entered a judgment that the plaintiffs’ property had the benefit of an easement over the defendants’ driveway.

If you are seeking legal advice for a residential property or easement matter, the Massachusetts real estate lawyers at Pulgini & Norton can help.  We have guided people through home purchase and sale transactions, mortgage financing, building permit applications, local zoning bylaws, and many other situations involving residential property.  Schedule a free consultation to discuss your real estate concerns with a skilled attorney by calling our office at (781) 843-2200 or contacting Pulgini & Norton online.

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