When a driveway is shared by two neighboring properties, the owners’ legal right to use the driveway is commonly provided through an easement. Overuse or obstruction of the driveway easement may lead the property owners to take legal action, as in an October 28, 2019 Massachusetts real estate case.
The plaintiff in the case had an express right-of-way easement, provided by deed, over ten feet of the defendants’ property. The easement contained a paved driveway, which started at the street and extended the full length of the boundary line between the parties’ properties to the back of their lots. The easement allowed the plaintiff to drive her vehicle from the street and over the driveway to the area behind her house, where her garage and off-street parking area were located.
When the defendants purchased the neighboring property in 2015, they began parking their two vehicles on the front part of the paved easement, bumper to bumper. In addition, contractors and other invitees to the defendants’ house would also park there. The plaintiff filed an action in Land Court, seeking a permanent injunction giving her full, unobstructed use of the entire right-of-way at all times, and prohibiting the defendants and their guests from parking on the driveway.
In Massachusetts, a party having the benefit of an express right-of-way, even where the location is specifically defined, does not necessarily have the right to use its entirety. Unless the language of the easement requires that the full extent of the right-of-way be kept open, the easement holder is entitled only to a convenient way over the area for its proper purpose, not unobstructed use of the whole space.
The question for the Land Court, therefore, was how much of the driveway was needed for convenient access. Because the right-of-way was expressly on the defendants’ land, the court held that the plaintiff had the right to rely solely on the easement for vehicle access to the rear of her property, without the use of the paved portion of her own property.
After viewing the site, the court found that if one or more vehicles is parked along the driveway, backing out a vehicle from the plaintiff’s parking area requires extensive maneuvering so as not to hit the parked vehicles. Without any parked vehicles, exiting the driveway could be accomplished in a single back-up maneuver. As such, the court held that parking even a single car on the easement, even a single car, was an unreasonable interference with the plaintiff’s express easement rights. The court went on to issue an order permanently enjoining the defendants from parking along the easement or placing any other objects that would obstruct the front portion of the driveway.
If you need legal guidance concerning your shared driveway or easement dispute, contact the Massachusetts real estate attorneys at Pulgini & Norton. We assist existing and potential homeowners in all areas of residential property law, including adverse possession and easement claims, variance and building permit applications, property tax liens, foreclosure proceedings, and more. Request a free consultation with an experienced real estate lawyer by calling (781) 843-2200 or completing our website contact form online.