Massachusetts Homeowners Acquire Ownership Rights to Portion of Neighbor’s Lot

Confusion over boundary lines and property ownership can eventually lead to a legal action filed before a court.  Many Massachusetts adverse possession claims are argued before the Massachusetts Land Court, which shares jurisdiction with other courts over most real property cases in the state.  In a August 29, 2017 decision, the Land Court considered the plaintiffs’ claim that they had acquired portions of the defendant’s neighboring property, which consisted of a narrow strip of land bordering their lot and a concrete pad adjacent to that strip.

In Massachusetts, title by adverse possession can be acquired if the claimant establishes, with clear proof, non-permissive use, which is actual, open and notorious, exclusive, and adverse for a period of 20 years.

The strip of land at issue in the case contained a pathway, retaining walls and low stone structures, a fence, and vegetation planted by the plaintiffs.  The Land Court found that the plaintiffs’ improvements and maintenance of the pathway and planting bed area were sufficient to constitute actual use for the purposes of adverse possession.  Specifically, the plaintiffs’ construction of a rock wall, retaining walls, and fence were permanent improvements to the property ordinarily associated with ownership.  The court also held that the fence and stone walls surrounding the strip were sufficient to show that the plaintiffs’ use of the area was open and notorious, thereby putting the record owner on notice of their claim to the area, as well as exclusive.  The court explained that the fence enclosed the cleared pathway and planting bed area as if it was an extension of the plaintiffs’ property.  Finally, evidence that the plaintiffs had used the strip of land since they had moved into their house in 1982 satisfied the 20-year required period of possession.  Accordingly, the court ruled that the plaintiffs had established their ownership of that narrow area by adverse possession.

With respect to the concrete parking pad, however, the Land Court held that the plaintiffs’ claim of adverse possession failed.  The court explained that they made no efforts to exclude the record owner or third parties from using the concrete pad, such as by a barrier, enclosure, sign, or gate.  Having failed to prove exclusive use, the plaintiffs nevertheless were found by the court to have demonstrated sufficient proof of an easement by prescription.

In Massachusetts, a prescriptive easement is established by showing the continuous, open and notorious, adverse use of another party’s land for a period of 20 years.  After ruling that the plaintiffs established the elements of a prescriptive easement, the Land Court determined the scope of the easement.  The Land Court denied the plaintiffs’ claim of unlimited use over the entire concrete pad, but it did grant a limited prescriptive easement over one side of it, since the plaintiffs in the case used the concrete pad for parking a single car at a time.  The judgment was therefore entered in favor of the plaintiffs.

At Pulgini & Norton, our Massachusetts land use attorneys advise homeowners in a range of property issues.  We can assist people in home purchases and sales, title actions, foreclosures, refinancing, and many other residential real estate matters.  To speak with one of our knowledgeable property lawyers, call (781) 843-2200 or contact us online and schedule a free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Land Court Explains Requirements for Acquiring Wooded Land by Adverse Possession, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published April 17, 2017

Massachusetts Plaintiff Prevails on Appeal in Adverse Possession Claim Over Walled-In Patio Area, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published July 3, 2017

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