Massachusetts Property Owners Oppose Decision Allowing Multi-Family Dwelling on Single-Family Lot

In some situations, nearby property owners have the right to object to decisions made by local zoning boards.  These cases typically involve interpreting deeds and applying the real property laws of Massachusetts and local bylaws.  In an October 5, 2017 case, the Massachusetts Land Court considered a challenge brought by plaintiffs against a property management company after the local zoning board granted a variance to the defendants, allowing an otherwise prohibited two-family dwelling use on an undersized lot.  One of the issues for the court was whether the defendants took title to the lot subject to all easements, restrictions, and rights contained in the recorded deeds, or whether the restrictions had expired pursuant to law.

The lot at issue in the case was originally part of a larger parcel that was conveyed in 1925 subject to several restrictions, one of which prohibited more than one single-family house and garage.  The parcel was thereafter subdivided into lots, which were sold individually and made subject to the original restrictions by deed.  The lot at issue was subsequently conveyed to various owners until the defendants acquired it in 2011.  The deed provided that the lot was subject to the same restrictions and easements as the prior deeds.  It did not provide any time limits on the restrictions.  The defendants sought a variance to authorize two-family dwelling use and deviate from minimum lot size requirements, which was granted by the local zoning board.

The plaintiffs in the case owned one of the other lots in the original parcel.  They argued that the deed restriction limiting the lot to single-family dwelling use remained valid and enforceable.  The defendants contended that the single-family use restriction originally imposed in 1925 had expired pursuant to Massachusetts G.L. 184 § 28.  The statute provides that any restriction imposed before 1962 is not enforceable after 50 years, unless a Notice of Restriction has been recorded to extend enforceability beyond the 50-year period.

The Land Court concluded that the single-family use restriction did not terminate under § 28, but instead, the restriction was terminated pursuant to G.L. 184 § 23.  The statute provides that conditions or restrictions that are unlimited as to time are limited to 30 years from the date of the deed.  The court explained that the restriction at issue, which did not have a time limit, was governed by § 23.  The single-family use restriction on the lot, therefore, was no longer enforceable because it had expired by operation of § 23 30 years after it was originally imposed.  As a result, the court refused to invalidate the variance decision allowing a two-family dwelling on the defendants’ lot.

If you have concerns about a residential property matter in Massachusetts, the real estate lawyers at Pulgini & Norton can provide you with reliable legal advice.  Our legal team handles zoning issues, mortgages and re-financing, home purchase and sale agreements, and more.  To schedule a free consultation, call Pulgini & Norton at (781) 843-2200 or submit our contact form online.

More Blog Posts:

Neighbors Appeal Modification of Subdivision Plan in Massachusetts Land Use Case, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published August 7, 2017

Massachusetts Homeowner Brings Action Against Neighbor to Enforce Zoning Law, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published August 21, 2017

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