Massachusetts Homeowners Granted Easement Over Neighbors’ Private Way to Access Highway

In certain instances, using a private road on another person’s property over many years may give rise to a property interest.  In a June 26, 2018 Massachusetts real estate case, the plaintiffs had been using the defendants’ private road to access a main throughway from their property.  They filed an action in land court arguing that they had acquired an easement over the road.

In the case, the plaintiffs’ house could be reached by taking one of two different routes from the main road.  Using the road in dispute, which was located on the defendants’ property, was the easiest and quickest route.  When the plaintiffs purchased their home in 1993, they had assumed that use of the disputed way was conveyed by the deed to the house, which provided “a right of way to the Public Highway.”  Accordingly, the plaintiffs had used the disputed way from the time they moved in, believing they had a right to do so.  In the midst of the instant disagreement with the defendants, the plaintiffs learned from their attorney that they had misinterpreted their deed, and that the right of way merely referred to the street on which their house was located.  Nevertheless, the plaintiffs filed an action against the defendants, claiming that they had acquired a private easement by prescription over the disputed way.

In Massachusetts, a claimant may be entitled to a prescriptive easement over the land of another if it is shown by clear proof that the use of the land has been (a) open, (b) notorious, (c) adverse to the owner, and (d) continuous or uninterrupted over a period of at least twenty years.

The land court concluded that the plaintiffs had used the disputed way for more than twenty years, and that they had earned the benefit of a presumption that their use was adverse to the defendants’ ownership.  The burden then shifted to the defendants to rebut the presumption that the plaintiffs’ use was adverse.  One way to rebut the presumption is to prove that the owner of the way gave the claimants permission to use it.  Whether a use is permissive or non-permissive depends on many circumstances, including the character of the land, who benefited from the use of the land, the way the land was held and maintained, and the nature of the relationship between the parties.

The land court found that neither the defendants nor previous owners discussed permission with the plaintiffs to use the way, nor was there evidence of a friendly exchange between the parties that would suggest the plaintiffs were allowed use of the way.  Rather, the defendants and previous owners had merely acquiesced in the plaintiffs’ use of it until some time in 2014.  The court therefore held that the plaintiffs had established an easement by prescription over the way to travel from the main road to and from their home, and granted an injunction preventing the defendants from interfering with their use of it.

At Pulgini & Norton, our real estate lawyers can assist individuals with issues concerning residential property in Massachusetts.  We advise homeowners and buyers in purchase and sale transactions, mortgage financing, easement and title actions, and many other residential real estate matters.  To schedule a free consultation, call Pulgini & Norton at (781) 843-2200 or contact us through the website.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Land Court Denies Non-Owner’s Claim of Prescriptive Rights in Beach Property, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published May 1, 2017

Massachusetts Landowners Seek Access Over Neighboring Property Through Discontinued Public Easement, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published June 18, 2018

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