Massachusetts Landowner Files Action Alleging Neighbor Has Overburdened Easement

The right to cross another person’s land via an easement may be subject to limitations.  In a July 6, 2018 Massachusetts real estate case, one of the issues for the Land Court was whether an easement located on the plaintiffs’ land had been overburdened by the defendants’ use over time.  The easement at issue allowed the defendants to access a public road from their property through a roadway on the plaintiffs’ property.  The plaintiffs claimed that the defendants had overloaded the easement because they used it to access property other than the parcel expressly identified.  The plaintiffs also sought damages for flooding, which they alleged was caused by the defendants having raised and widened the easement roadway.

An affirmative easement creates a nonpossessory right to enter and use land in the possession of another and obligates the possessor not to interfere with the uses authorized by the easement.  Accordingly, the party holding rights to use of the easement, i.e., the defendants, are entitled to make only the uses reasonably necessary for the specified purpose, while the plaintiffs may use their land in any way that does not unreasonably interfere with the easement.

The defendants argued that they had established a prescriptive right to use the easement to access other parcels of land in addition to the parcel expressly identified in the easement.  In order to establish their claim to a prescriptive easement, the defendants must show that their use of the easement was (a) open, (b) notorious, (c) adverse to the owner, and (d) continuous or uninterrupted over a period of no less than twenty years.

The Land Court found that all the elements of a prescriptive easement had been met, as the defendants had been openly using the easement for over twenty years to access other parcels of land.  Accordingly, because the defendants had the right to use the easement in such a manner, the plaintiffs’ claim that the defendants had overloaded the easement was dismissed.

The court went on to address the plaintiffs’ claim for damages.  In Massachusetts, a private nuisance is actionable when a property owner creates, permits, or maintains a condition or activity on his own property that causes a substantial and unreasonable interference with the use and enjoyment of the property of another.  The court concluded that there was a causal connection between surface water runoff from the roadway and at least some of the flooding to the plaintiffs’ barn.  However, because the plaintiffs failed to present any evidence of the cost of repair or other damage caused by the flooding, they could not recover damages.

At Pulgini & Norton, our Massachusetts real estate attorneys can provide trusted legal guidance to property owners and home buyers.  We have experience handling a wide-range of residential real estate matters, including mortgage refinancing, home purchase and sale transactions, zoning permits, and easement and property use issues.  Request your free consultation by calling Pulgini & Norton at (781) 843-2200 or contacting us online.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Beachfront Property Owners Take Legal Action to Determine Location of Right of Way Easement, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published June 6, 2018

Massachusetts Land Court Denies Non-Owner’s Claim of Prescriptive Rights in Beach Property, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published May 1, 2017

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