In a recent decision, the Massachusetts Land Court was presented with the question of whether the defendants had a legal right of access or easement to their undeveloped parcel of land at the dead end of a street. In Diodati v. Kohl (Mass. Land Ct. Apr. 13, 2016), the plaintiffs filed an action seeking a declaration that the defendants had no rights to access the property via the street, arguing that the portion of the street at issue was part of the plaintiffs’ properties and not a public way. The defendants contended that the end of the street was a public way over which they had rights of access, and that their property was landlocked without such access.
In Massachusetts, a road may become a public way by one of three methods: (1) a laying out by public authority in the manner prescribed by statute (G.L. c. 82, §§ 1–32); (2) prescription; or (3) prior to 1846, a dedication by the owner coupled with acceptance by the public. In Diodati, a portion of the street at issue had been statutorily made a public way in 1921 by the town, but not all the way to the dead end of the street where the defendants’ property was located. The defendants argued that the rest of the street had become a public way because the town owned it by prescription. However, the creation of a public way by adverse use depends on a showing of actual public use that is general, uninterrupted, and existing continuously for 20 years. The court was not persuaded by the defendants’ argument, finding that there was no activity in that portion of the street that would establish that it was a public way.
The Land Court also concluded that the defendants did not have any private rights of access over the private portion of the street in order to allow them access to their property. In Diodati, the plaintiffs owned the land on either side of the street at issue as a result of merged lots. The Massachusetts “derelict fee” statute provides that an instrument passing title to real estate abutting a way is construed to include any property interest of the grantor in that way, unless it is retained. Consequently, the plaintiffs owned the street to its centerline for the entire length of their frontage, as provided by the deed. Since the defendants’ property was at the end of the street, rather than abutting it, the statute afforded no such ownership to the defendants as owners of property at the end of a street.
Finally, the court ruled that the defendants were not entitled to an easement by estoppel, since it is only appropriate when seeking to assert claims of grantees or their successors against grantors and their successors. The court also observed that the landlocked status of the parcel of land was consideration in the nominal purchase price. The court therefore found in favor of the plaintiffs.
If you have questions regarding your right to access or use property, an experienced real estate attorney can assist you in determining your options and protecting your interests. The property law attorneys at the Massachusetts firm of Pulgini & Norton offer legal guidance to individuals in matters involving land use and zoning, easements, closings, mortgages, and other property transactions. To discuss your real estate needs with one of our capable attorneys, 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 Supreme Judicial Court Holds No Easements of Necessity Created by 1878 Partition of Native American Land, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published April 18, 2016