Property Owner and Massachusetts Town Clash Over Easement Rights in Real Estate Case

Boundary disputes and property ownership are often resolved in court proceedings, particularly when the party claiming possession of the land is not the title owner.  In an August 22, 2017 case, the Court of Appeals reviewed a Massachusetts title action between a landowner and the town.  The landowners brought the action against the town, seeking a declaration that they were the rightful title owners of a patch of land and way between two public roads.  The town filed a counterclaim, contending that it had a prescriptive easement.  After the Land Court ruled for the town, the landowners appealed to the higher court.

The area at issue consisted of a triangular parcel of land and an abutting way.  The way was paved but unnamed, and it was wide enough for two-way traffic to flow.  It provided a cut-through between two larger roads that merged at an intersection located at the tip of the triangular parcel of land.  The way was maintained by the town and had been used by the public for more than 20 years.  Although the public did not use the triangular parcel of land, the town had installed a drainage system in the triangle to channel water from the public roads, mowed the area, and removed dead trees.  The plaintiffs had not paid taxes on that area, nor had they been assessed by the town.

For a municipality in Massachusetts to acquire a prescriptive easement over land for a specific public purpose, it must demonstrate open, continuous, and notorious use for more than 20 years, as well as sufficient proof that it exercised dominion and control over the land through authorized acts of its employees to conduct or maintain a public use for the general benefit of its residents.

On appeal, the court concluded that the evidence demonstrated that the town made no attempt to conceal its maintenance or use of the area at issue.  Furthermore, the facts established that the plaintiffs and the previous owners of the disputed area had actual knowledge of the town’s and the public’s adverse use of the disputed area.  In addition, the court found sufficient evidence that the town had maintained the area for use by the public.  The town’s highway superintendent testified that in his 27-year employment, he had witnessed the way being used by the public, he had personally maintained the triangle and way, and he had ordered other highway department employees to perform work on it as well.  The court also noted that the town employees had plowed the way, patched potholes on it, and removed fallen limbs and trees from the disputed area.  Accordingly, the appeals court ruled that the disputed area was subject to the town’s prescriptive rights.

The Massachusetts real estate lawyers at Pulgini & Norton handle a wide range of residential property issues for home and property owners.  We can assist people with zoning and land use laws, building permits, mortgage refinancing, purchase and sale agreements, title actions, and more.  To arrange a free consultation with one of our professionals, contact Pulgini & Norton by phone at (781) 843-2200 or complete the contact form on our website.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Appeals Court Sides with Property Owner in Case Against Town Over Easement Rights, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published August 22, 2016

Massachusetts Property Owner Opposes Second Story Addition to Neighbor’s Beach House, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published June 26, 2017

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