Massachusetts Land Court Interprets 1927 Deed to Determine Easement Rights

In a recent case, the Massachusetts Land Court was called on to decide a property dispute involving the use of a private way to access a parcel of land. In Pearson v. Bayview Associates, Inc. (Mass. Land Ct. Jan. 11, 2016), the plaintiffs sought to use a private way owned by the defendant in order to access the lot they currently owned. The plaintiffs claimed passage rights over the private way pursuant to an easement that the plaintiffs alleged was included in the 1927 deed. In response, the defendant argued that the 1927 easement does not lie along the private way, nor does it touch the land that the plaintiffs presently own.

In 1999, the plaintiffs split their land into two lots, retaining one parcel and selling the other. The plaintiffs, however, did not reserve any record easement to pass across the lot they sold, leaving them landlocked. In Pearson, the plaintiffs sought to establish a right of way not over the lot they sold but instead over the private way, alleging that they have rights to use it pursuant to the 1927 easement. Accordingly, the court was presented with the task of determining the location of the easement created in 1927 in order to decide whether the easement reached the plaintiff’s parcel of land.

In Massachusetts, an easement is the right to enter and use land in the possession of another. The benefit of an easement generally authorizes limited uses of the burdened property for a particular purpose. If a deed intends to convey an easement, but it is not clear as to location, scope, or purpose, the court may interpret it so as to give meaning to the instrument and the intention of the parties. In so doing, the court attempts to derive the presumed intent of the grantor as determined from the words used in the deed and, when necessary, construed in light of the attendant circumstances.

In evaluating the plaintiff’s claim, the Land Court noted that the plaintiffs were aware of the terms of the deeds to their property and the lot they sold, and they knew that when they subdivided their property in 1999, the lot they kept could only be accessed over a legally recognized right of way. Furthermore, the plaintiffs could have bargained for a record easement over the lot they sold for the benefit of the lot they kept. Since they did not, the plaintiffs could only rely on a favorable interpretation of the 1927 deed and easement to allow them access over the private way. However, in interpreting the deed, the Land Court concluded that the 1927 easement begins at the corner of the sold lot, but it does not extend the full length of that lot along the private way, and it does not reach any part of the lot currently owned by the plaintiffs. The court therefore found that the plaintiffs had no record right under the 1927 deed to pass to and from their land onto and over the private way.

The skilled Boston real estate lawyers at Pulgini & Norton provide legal guidance to individuals seeking assistance with land use and zoning issues, easements, closings and mortgages, and other property law transactions. To discuss your real estate needs with one of our experienced 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 Land Court Rules on Issues of Adverse Possession and Prescriptive Easement, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published December 15, 2015

Contact Information