Latent disagreements regarding property lines often come to a head when one party constructs a fence along his or her purported boundary. In a March 27, 2017 decision, the Massachusetts Land Court settled a real estate dispute between two neighbors. The plaintiff brought a claim of trespass against the owner of the adjoining property, alleging that his fence encroached on her property and seeking injunctive relief requiring the removal of the fence. The defendant asserted that the fence was within the boundary of his property.
To determine the correct boundary line, the Land Court reviewed the deeds that originally conveyed the parties’ respective properties. The court found that the 1953 deed conveying land to the plaintiff’s predecessor contained a description of the property that included the disputed area. However, the court noted that although the grantor included such language in the deed description, if an ambiguity is found within the deed, parol evidence may be introduced to determine the rights granted or the area conveyed. The court went on to explain that when, as here, the deed’s description relies on physical monuments and their location on the ground, they must be considered when discerning the true meaning of the instrument. Due to the failure to find the monuments on the ground as they are described in the deed, the court concluded the 1953 deed was ambiguous.
In Massachusetts, any competent evidence may be considered in determining the true boundary line between adjoining owners. Generally, monuments control, rather than the distances set out in the deeds. Over the plaintiff’s objection, the Land Court accepted the findings of the defendant’s surveyor, who found the three monuments referenced in the 1953 deed. These monuments consisted of a stone bound and two iron pipes located in separate corners of the plaintiff’s property. The court held that the monuments marked three corners of the plaintiff’s parcel, and the distances between these monuments on the ground controlled over the distances recited in the deeds.