Neighbors’ Respective Easement Rights in Shoreway Decided in Massachusetts Real Estate Case

The issue of Massachusetts real estate easement rights commonly arises in situations involving beach access and pathways to the shore.  This issue was the source of the dispute in an August 16, 2019 case decided by the Massachusetts Land Court on summary judgment.  The question for the court was whether the defendants had an easement in a way referred to as the “shoreway,” which abutted the plaintiffs’ registered property.

The parties’ properties were located along a bay in Massachusetts.  The properties were once part of a larger tract assembled in 1950, which had been registered on a county registry district certificate and depicted on a Land Court plan.  The lands comprising the larger tract, however, had been registered long before 1950 in various certificates.  Many of these certificates mentioned the roads within the registered parcels, and provided that the streets and ways shown on the plan were subject to the rights of all persons lawfully entitled to use them.

When the larger tract was divided in 1950 and thereafter, the developer registered several subdivision plans that included inland lots and oceanfront lots.  The plans also depicted “shoreways,” which extended a short distance from the private interior subdivision roads to the bay.  Both the inland lots and the oceanfront lots referred to easements providing a right of way in common with others over the private ways and shoreways.

The plaintiffs argued that they owned the fee in the shoreway abutting their property, free and clear of any easements by virtue of the Massachusetts Derelict Fee Statute.  The Land Court concluded that, although all of the land at issue in the case was registered land, the Derelict Fee Statute does not apply to land registered prior to the enactment of the statute in January of 1972.  As the parties’ property was not, therefore, subject to the Derelict Fee Statute, the court proceeded to consider whether the defendants possessed an easement in the shoreway.

First, the court considered whether the developer had the right to grant an easement in the shoreway.  After reviewing the deeds to the properties, the court found that the developer did own the fee in the shoreway at the time he conveyed the defendants’ lot to the prior owners.  Therefore, the developer had the right to grant them an easement in the shoreway.

The court then went on to determine whether the easement was shown on the certificate of title.  In general, for registered land to be burdened by an easement in Massachusetts, the easement must be shown on the certificate of title of the person who retained the fee in the shoreway.  The court ultimately held that the easement over the shoreway appeared in the pertinent certificate of title.  As such, the court held that the defendants had an easement, in common with others, over the shoreway.

At Pulgini & Norton, our skilled Massachusetts real estate lawyers can assist individuals in a range of residential property matters, including easement rights.  We also handle issues concerning home purchase and sale agreements, mortgage financing, zoning and land use laws, tax liens, foreclosures, and more.  If you have a question regarding residential real estate, call Pulgini & Norton at (781) 843-2200 or contact us online and request a free consultation with one of our land use attorneys.

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