Massachusetts Town Claims Title to Water Rights in Lake Located on Defendant’s Property

Some restrictions on property are limited in their duration, often either through the express terms of the instrument or by statute.  In a May 18, 2018 Massachusetts real estate case, the issue concerned the water usage rights of a local town in a lake located on the defendant’s property.  The parties disputed whether the town still had the rights, or whether the rights had since reverted back to the owner of the lake.

In 1958, the prior owner of the defendant’s land had conveyed flowage and usage rights of the lake to a business entity.  The entity, in turn, conveyed the rights to the town in 1972.  These rights were subject to a reversionary interest in favor of the grantor and his successors.  This meant that, if certain conditions were not met, the town would lose its rights in the lake, and they would return to the current owner of the property.  Specifically, if the town failed to maintain the dams or impound the waters of the lake as agreed in the 1958 conveyance, the grantor or their successors could, at their option, record a written declaration that would effectuate their reversionary interest.

In 2016, the defendant recorded an instrument that purported to effectuate its reversionary interest in the rights that were conveyed in 1958.  The town, in turn, filed an action seeking to quiet its title to the flowage and usage rights it obtained in 1972.  Although the town conceded that it had not maintained the dams and impounded the waters of the lake, as required by the conveyance, it argued that under Massachusetts law, the original grantor or successors had only 30 years to make the necessary record to effectuate their reversionary interest.  The town asserted that since they failed to record a declaration within the 30-year period, the town acquired absolute ownership of the flowage and usage rights.

In Massachusetts, a property owner has the right to impose limitations on a conveyance, as well as the right to terminate, either automatically or by an affirmative action on the part of the grantor, upon the occurrence of a stated event.  The 1958 deed did not provide a deadline by which a declaration must be recorded in order to effectuate the grantor’s reversionary interest in the flowage and usage rights.  Nevertheless, the land court concluded that, under the Massachusetts statutes regulating these types of conveyances, the reversionary rights retained by the grantor were limited to a duration of 30 years.  Accordingly, any claim that the defendant had as the grantor’s successor to the reversionary rights had lapsed in 1988, when 30 years had passed without any recorded declaration to effectuate the reversion of the rights in the lake.  The court therefore entered judgment in favor of the town, holding that the town held title to the rights conveyed in the 1958 deed.

At Pulgini & Norton, our Massachusetts real estate attorneys can guide residential property owners and buyers toward their goals.  We have experience in all areas of residential real estate, including home purchases and sales, title actions, mortgage financing, and more.  Call our office at (781) 843-2200 or contact us online and schedule your free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Homeowner Argues Deed Restrictions on Her Property Are Against Public Policy, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published May 8, 2018

Massachusetts Court Rules Restrictions on Subdivision Lots Subject to Thirty-Year Limitation, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published December 4, 2017

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