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Massachusetts Homeowners Acquire Title to Side Yard Through Successful Adverse Possession Claim

In many  adverse possession cases, the plaintiffs’ claim to property arises from a long-held, yet mistaken, belief that they own the land at issue.  This situation was presented in a May 28, 2019 Massachusetts real estate case before the Land Court.  The plaintiffs in the case filed an action against their neighbor, claiming title by adverse possession to a strip of land they had long believed was part of their property.

The land at issue in the case was a narrow, 13 foot wide strip of land on the side yard of the plaintiffs’ residence.  The plaintiffs’ property consisted of two lots, both of which had been owned by their parents, and before that, their grandparents.  From the time the second lot was conveyed to the plaintiffs’ family in 1949, they believed that two iron surveyors’ pipes marked the lot’s side boundary.  They cleared, used, and improved that area in the same ways they did for the rest of their property, fully incorporating it.

As a matter of record title, however, the plaintiffs were wrong about their ownership over the strip of land.  A survey of the lot conducted in 1948 had erroneously shifted its boundaries, and the two surveyors’ pipes were approximately 13 feet beyond the true record boundary of the second lot.  In fact, the record owner of the strip was the plaintiffs’ neighbor and the defendant in the case, who had acquired the adjacent lot in 1991.  The plaintiffs subsequently filed a claim in Land Court seeking a declaration that they acquired title to the strip by adverse possession.

To establish title by adverse possession in Massachusetts, the plaintiffs have the burden to prove their non-permissive use, which was actual, open, notorious, exclusive and adverse for twenty years.  The nature and the extent of occupancy required to establish title by adverse possession varies with the character of the land, the purposes for which it is adapted, and the uses to which it has been put.

After a trial, the Land Court concluded that the acts of the plaintiffs and their predecessors, which included the initial clearing of the strip, the regular cultivation and plantings thereafter, family and social gatherings, and the construction of a driveway and other structures, were adverse uses that fell within the criteria necessary to establish adverse possession.  Accordingly, the court held that the adverse possession title had accrued by December 1969, twenty years after the initial clearing and possessive acts began.  The court went on to find that the defendant’s acts were sporadic and minor uses of the strip, and as such, insufficient to interrupt the plaintiffs’ possession.   The court therefore ruled that the plaintiffs successfully acquired title over the strip by adverse possession.

If you seek advice regarding a residential property issue, the Massachusetts real estate lawyers at Pulgini & Norton can assist you.  We have represented individuals in home sale and purchase transactions, title actions, adverse possession and easement cases, and many other land use matters.  Arrange your free consultation with a real estate attorney by calling Pulgini & Norton at (781) 843-2200 or submitting the contact form on our website.

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