Certain rights in property may be granted to non-owners, including the right to use another party’s property for a particular purpose, which is referred to as an easement. Disputes regarding the scope of the easement may arise if that use changes or becomes overloaded, as in the case of Kent v. Roma III, Ltd. (Mass. Land Ct., Nov. 23, 2016).
In Kent, the plaintiff’s property was burdened by easements granted by the previous owners for the benefit of one of the defendant’s lots, Lot B. The defendant subsequently combined Lot B with an adjacent lot that it owned. The defendant obtained permits for, and commenced construction of, a large single-family dwelling on the Combined Lot, claiming that the access and utility easements that had been granted to Lot B may not be used to serve the Combined Lot. The plaintiff sought relief from the Land Court to prevent the defendant from expanding the use of the access and utility easements appurtenant to Lot B to serve the new dwelling on the Combined Lot.
In Massachusetts, the established rule is that, absent the express consent of the owner of the servient estate, the use of an appurtenant easement to benefit property located beyond the dominant estate constitutes an overloading of that easement. In Kent, the plaintiff owned the servient estate, and the defendant owned the dominant estate with an easement in the plaintiff’s property. The defendant argued that it was entitled to an exception to the rule, relative to after-acquired property. In particular, the defendant contended that since the easements at issue would serve only one dwelling instead of the two dwellings previously located on Lot B, their use for the Combined Lot would not result in an increased use or burden on the plaintiff’s property.
The Land Court disagreed, citing the Supreme Judicial Court’s holding that expressly rejected any exceptions or flexibility within this bright-line rule. The court explained that the rule was meant to avoid otherwise difficult litigation over the question of whether increased use unreasonably increases the burden on the plaintiff’s property. Accordingly, the Land Court held that the plaintiff was entitled to a declaratory judgment in her favor, stating that the use of the access or utility easement to benefit the Combined Lot would impermissibly overload those easements as a matter of law. The court acknowledged that any hardship and inconvenience to the defendant resulting from a permanent injunction is the defendant’s own fault, since it voluntarily and unilaterally combined the lots with full knowledge of the plaintiff’s claims. As a result, the plaintiff was successful in bringing her claims.
The Massachusetts land use attorneys at Pulgini & Norton represent clients in a variety of property disputes. We can advise individuals who are entering into purchase and sale agreements, applying for building permits, refinancing their mortgage, contesting foreclosure proceedings, or handling many other real estate issues. To speak with one of our informed legal professionals, contact Pulgini & Norton at (781) 843-2200 or online and schedule a consultation.
More Blog Posts:
Massachusetts Land Court Discusses Permissive Use in Easement Dispute over Shared Driveway, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published November 14, 2016
Massachusetts Appeals Court Sides with Property Owner in Case Against Town Over Easement Rights, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published August 22, 2016