Massachusetts Plaintiff Prevails on Appeal in Adverse Possession Claim Over Walled-In Patio Area

Generally, any party to a lawsuit can appeal an unfavorable decision by a lower court or another local authority. In a Massachusetts adverse possession decision released on July 24, 2017, the Appeals Court of Massachusetts reviewed a ruling of the land court in an appeal filed by the plaintiff. The plaintiff in the case had claimed title by adverse possession to a narrow strip of land within a walled-in courtyard area behind a building on the property.  The disputed area was the two feet along the rear end of the plaintiff’s enclosed courtyard and was used as an outdoor space and for gardening, containing mostly dirt and plantings, including two small trees.

The land court had ruled that the plaintiff used and occupied the disputed area for gardening purposes continuously, openly, and notoriously since 1985, entitling the plaintiff to a prescriptive easement over the disputed area. The land court also ruled that the plaintiff did not have title to the disputed area, however, since its use of the disputed area was not exclusive. In particular, the land court found that the defendant repaired the retaining wall and exterminated vermin in the disputed area. As a result, the issue on appeal was whether or not the plaintiff’s use of the disputed area was exclusive.

After reviewing the evidence, the appeals court concluded that there was no evidence to support the lower court’s finding that the defendant regularly maintained and inspected the retaining walls and chain link fence bordering the rear of the courtyard, and therefore accessed the disputed area, at any point during the previous 20 years.  The appeals court pointed to testimony from the previous owner of the plaintiff’s property, who stated that no repairs had been made to the walls or fence during his ownership. Without any evidence to rebut the testimony, the appeals court held that the land court’s inference that the defendant entered the disputed area for this purpose was unreasonable.

The appeals court went on to conclude that there was no evidence of any extermination efforts conducted in the disputed area by the defendant or his predecessor. Instead, the uncontested evidence showed that for more than 20 years, the disputed area had been fully enclosed and was not readily accessible from the defendant’s land without the use of a ladder. As a result, the court of appeals held that the plaintiff had established a case for adverse possession of the disputed area, and it vacated the order of the land court.

If you have concerns regarding your property rights, contact the Massachusetts land use attorneys at Pulgini & Norton.  Our knowledgeable team can represent people in residential real estate disputes as well as provide legal advice to those seeking options to further their interests.  Schedule your appointment today by calling (781) 843-2200 or submitting our online form.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Landowner Establishes Title to Fenced, Neighboring Property by Adverse Possession, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published March 7, 2016

Massachusetts Land Court Explains Requirements for Acquiring Wooded Land by Adverse Possession, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published April 17, 2017

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