Massachusetts Land Court Determines Boundary Line of Properties Divided without Surveyor

Surveying historical boundaries of lands in Massachusetts can be a complex task.  It may require searching and deciphering markings, monuments, and records that are many years old.  In a November 5, 2018 Massachusetts property case, the Land Court faced several obstacles as it attempted to determine an accurate boundary line between two parcels of land.  The case originated when the plaintiff, seeking to resolve the question, filed an action to try and quiet title against the owners of the adjacent parcel.  The defendants, in turn, filed multiple counter-claims against the plaintiff.  The parties ultimately agreed to narrow their dispute into a single issue to be decided at trial, namely, the boundary between the properties.

The lands had been previously owned by two brothers, who had inherited them in 1942 as a large, single tract of property.  In 1961, the brothers divided their lands into two parcels, which became the lands currently owned by the parties in the case.  The brothers decided to skip the expense of a surveyor, however, and described the boundary line between their lands themselves, using monuments and markers.  In particular, the brothers referenced an old road marked by pipes and stones, a brook that had disappeared long before 1961, a bridge that no longer existed, and a heap of stones on a ledge of a ravine.

In order to determine the entire boundary between the formerly unified lands, the Land Court needed to find the exact locations of the ill-defined monuments described in deed.  To identify the location of the old road, the court reviewed a plan prepared by a surveyor in 2013.  The court concluded that the plan accurately depicted the road, noting that its location corresponded with maps from 1980 and 1986.  Although the maps were not professionally surveyed, they were prepared pursuant to state regulations for the plaintiff to submit a state-mandated forest management plan.  The bridge and brook were located by a geotechnical engineer and found to be consistent with the defendant’s testimony about statements that the prior owner made concerning the property line.

The court then looked to the Derelict Fee Statute, which dictates ownership where the real estate abuts a public or private way.  The brothers had each retained property abutting the old road on opposite sides, but neither had reserved any rights in the road itself.  Accordingly, the court held that the boundary fell in the center line of the old road, with each owner enjoying an easement over the old road.  Finally, although no heap of stones was ever discovered by the surveyors, the court accepted the location of the ravine as depicted in the 2013 plan, as it expressly referenced the monuments described in the original deeds.  In issuing its ruling, the court encouraged the parties to confer with each other regarding its decision, and attempt to settle their dispute in light of the court’s judgment.

At Pulgini & Norton, our Massachusetts real estate lawyers have experience in a range of residential property issues.  We can provide comprehensive legal advice and representation to assist you in achieving your real estate goals.  Request a free consultation with one of our skilled property attorneys by calling (781) 843-2200 or completing the contact form on our website.

More Blog Posts:

Driveway Boundary Dispute Between Neighbors Leads to Massachusetts Real Estate Action, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published August 8, 2018

After Discovering Accurate Boundaries, Massachusetts Landowners Litigate Advrse Possession Claim, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published April 12, 2018

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