Massachusetts Land Court Defines Neighbors’ Rights to Use Private Way in Property Dispute

In a recent decision, the Massachusetts Land Court reviewed a case involving an easement dispute between two neighboring landowners.  In Teare v. Stockwell (Mass. Land Ct. May 20, 2016), the parties lived across from each other on a private way and disagreed as to their respective rights to use the lane.

The first question for the land court was whether the plaintiff had a deeded, recorded interest to use the entire width of the lane, in the form of an easement.  The court looked at the deed to determine the existence of an easement.  In Massachusetts, the meaning of the deed, derived from the presumed intent of the grantor, is to be ascertained from the words used in the written instrument and construed when necessary in the light of the attendant circumstances.  In Teare, the court found that the lot owners of the subdivision were originally granted the same rights to use and install utilities along the lane at issue from the common grantor.  Pursuant to G.L. c. 183 sec. 15, subsequent deeds also conveyed those rights as a matter of law.

The court therefore followed the history of conveyances, finding that the easement originally granted was extinguished through merger in 1997.  Under the common-law doctrine of merger, easements are extinguished by unity of title and possession of the two estates by the same person at the same time.  However, in 1998, the lot was again conveyed subject to a roadway easement, which expressly reserved and re-granted the easement over the lane.  When the plaintiff acquired title to the lot, therefore, he also acquired the easements, restrictions, and reservations over that portion of the lane. Despite the plaintiff’s subsequent reconfiguration of the lot, the court ruled that there remained an easement for the benefit of the plaintiff’s property, to enter and use a portion of the private way now owned by the defendants for passage and access.

The next issue was whether the defendants’ improvements on the easement interfered with the reasonable use of the easement.  The court explained that although the defendants may enjoy rights to use their land, they may not engage in activities that are inconsistent or materially interfere with the plaintiff’s easement.

In Teare, the court found that the large wooden pole laid horizontally across the lane by the defendants materially interfered with the plaintiff’s roadway easement and must be removed.  Since only all-terrain vehicles would be able to drive over the pole, it significantly interfered with the plaintiff’s access and use of the lane.   For similar reasons, the court held that the cement blocks placed in the lane must be removed.  The court, however, did not find that the fence erected by the defendants interfered with or entered into the lane, and it allowed it to remain.  Lastly, the court overruled the defendants’ request to relocate the easement, finding that it was inappropriate in the current case.

If you have concerns regarding the right of your neighbors or you to access or use land, a knowledgeable real estate attorney can advise you of your options and protect your property interests.  The experienced land use attorneys at the Massachusetts firm of Pulgini & Norton represent individuals in matters involving easements, zoning, closings, mortgages, and other property transactions. To discuss your real estate needs with one of our dedicated lawyers, call (781) 843-2200 or contact us online.

More Blog Posts:

Appeals Court of Massachusetts Decides Easement Issue in Neighbors’ Dispute, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published September 4, 2015

Massachusetts Land Court Finds No Right of Way to Access Landlocked Parcel, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published April 25, 2016

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