Massachusetts Homeowners Prevail in Easement Action Filed by Real Estate Developer

In a recent case before the Massachusetts Land Court, a real estate developer filed an action against the adjacent property owners and neighborhood association, claiming an easement for vehicular passage over their lots.  In Bucks Hill Realty, LLC v. Gill (Mass. Land Ct. Jan. 11, 2017), the developer-plaintiff sought a declaration that it had an express or implied appurtenant easement to use the road at issue to get between its parcel and the public street.  The plaintiff also asked the court to enjoin the defendants from interfering with its use of the road. 

In Massachusetts, the party asserting the benefit of an easement has the burden of proving its existence, its nature, and its extent.  A plan cited in a deed showing an easement becomes part of the contract as far as it may be necessary to aid in the identification of the lots and to determine the rights intended to be conveyed.  When an ambiguity exists in a deed, contract, or other instrument, it is proper to look beyond it for meaning.

In Bucks Hill Realty, LLC, the parties’ lots were subject to a declaration of covenants, conditions, and restrictions.  The declaration referenced two plans, each of which showed two differing points of termination for the easement.  While the first plan depicted an easement that continued through the defendants’ land into the plaintiff’s lot, the later plan terminated the easement before it reached the plaintiff’s property.  Due to this discrepancy, the parties agreed that additional facts were required to determine the extent of the easement set out in the declaration.

In reviewing the evidence, the land court observed that the declaration appeared to state that the plaintiff’s parcel, along with four other lots, initially had an appurtenant right to use the easement.  However, the court found that the duration of that right was not intended to last indefinitely, despite the lack of express time limits on the easement at issue.  The court concluded that the obvious shortening of the easement on the later prepared plan was not a drafting error but reflected an intention that the easement was not to benefit the plaintiff’s lot forever, particularly after the short amount of time necessary to sell off the four other lots had passed.  In ruling against the plaintiff, the court held that it did not meet its burden to prove the express easement existed.

Implied easements, whether by grant or by reservation, do not arise out of necessity alone and must be found in a presumed intention of the parties as determined from the language of the instruments when read in the light of the circumstances attending their execution, the physical condition of the premises, and the knowledge of the parties.  In Bucks Hill Realty, LLC, the land court found that there was no evidence that the parties intended to create a perpetual easement or that the defendants knew or should have known that their parcels were intended to be burdened by a perpetual easement at the time of the sale.  As a result, the land court denied the plaintiff’s petition.

A real estate lawyer can defend against any claims made on your land and protect your ownership rights during litigation.  At Pulgini & Norton, our Massachusetts property law attorneys have experience advising people in residential purchases and sales, zoning and land use matters, mortgages, and many other real estate transactions.  If you have questions regarding a real estate matter, contact Pulgini & Norton at (781) 843-2200 or online and schedule your initial consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Land Court Discusses Permissive Use in Easement Dispute over Shared Driveway, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published November 14, 2016

Massachusetts Appeals Court Sides with Property Owner in Case Against Town Over Easement Rights, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published August 22, 2016

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