If a record title of property is clouded by an adverse claim, or even the possibility of one, the property owner may “try title” by filing a petition with the court and requesting that it summon any adverse claimants. In the case of Blakeman v. Cellini (Mass. Land Ct. Nov. 23, 2016), both parties claimed ownership of a small rectangular parcel of land, depicted as a 40-foot water easement on a recorded plan. The plaintiffs initiated a try title action, seeking to establish ownership of a disputed area. The defendants filed a counterclaim to try title as well, and they also claimed title by adverse possession if the plaintiffs were found to be the record owners of the area.
A try-title action allows a party in possession claiming title to property to compel an adverse claimant to prove the merits of the adverse claimant’s interest in the property. Once the plaintiff satisfies the jurisdiction elements of the statute, the adverse claimant must either bring an action asserting claim of title or disclaim an interest in the property. When both parties assert title, as in Blakeman, the court may convert their respective claims to an action for declaratory judgment, in which the court will rule on who has record title to the area in dispute.
In Blakeman, the deed conveying the defendants’ property contained a metes and bounds description of their lot, as well as a reference to a recorded plan on which the lot was shown. The metes and bounds description did not include the disputed area as within their property. The recorded plan, however, did show the disputed area as part of their lot rather than as a separate, distinct parcel. The question before the Land Court was which description prevails.
The court concluded that the evidence established the grantor’s intent to convey the disputed area as part of the defendants’ lot. The court noted that the metes and bounds description was inaccurate, containing several scrivener’s errors that carved the disputed area out of the property. In reaching its decision, the court also considered that when a deed expressly refers to a plan as part of the description of land conveyed, the plan becomes part of the contract as far as may be necessary to identify the lot and determine the rights intended to be conveyed. Accordingly, if there is a discrepancy between the description contained in a deed and the plan referenced in the deed, the plan controls. The Land Court therefore determined that the defendants owned the disputed area free and clear of title in or interest of the plaintiffs.
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More Blog Posts:
Massachusetts Land Court Determines Issues of Record Ownership and Adverse Possession in Property Case, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published June 20, 2016
Massachusetts Homeowners Win Breach of Contract Claim Against Corporation in Property Dispute, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published September 5, 2016