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Record Owner of Private Way Defeats Neighboring Owner’s Claims in Massachusetts Land Court

Litigating ownership disputes in Land Court may be a way to establish clear title to property.  In a November 14, 2018 Massachusetts real estate case, the plaintiff filed an action asserting his rights in a private way against the defendant, who was the owner as a matter of record.

The plaintiff in the case owned up to the centerline of the road at issue, where it was adjacent to his home.  The defendant’s mother had owned the other portion of the road, where it was adjacent to her home.  The defendant’s mother had transferred her interest in the road to the defendant pursuant to a deed.  However, the adjacent lot was conveyed to a different owner.

The plaintiff filed an action in Land Court, asserting several claims to establish ownership.  One of the claims sought a declaratory judgment that the defendant’s interest in the way was invalid, because it could not be separated from the adjacent property.  The plaintiff also contended that the defendant’s mother failed to reserve any rights in the way when she sold the adjacent lot, and therefore had no right to convey any interest in the road.

The Land Court concluded that the plaintiff did not have standing to seek a declaratory judgment under the relevant Massachusetts statute.  The court reasoned that the plaintiff had no interest in the matter, because a declaration in his favor would not result in a declaration that the plaintiff owned the way.  Rather, ownership would revert to the heirs of the defendant’s mother, or the current owner of the adjacent lot.  The court therefore dismissed the claim.

The court then examined the plaintiff’s claim that obtained the disputed portion by reason of the defendant’s abandonment of the parcel.  The court again found that the plaintiff did not have standing to bring the challenge, as a decision in his favor would result in ownership of the way reverting to the heirs of the defendant’s mother or the current owner.

The court went on to state that fundamentally, Massachusetts does not recognize a claim for abandonment of a fee interest in land.  While abandonment of an easement or lesser interest in land may be established as a valid claim, there is no such claim to displace the record owner or fee owner of his property.  The court explained that while ownership of abandoned easement would revert back to the servient estate, there would be no estate to which ownership of a fee could revert.  Accordingly, the Land Court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim of abandonment as well.

The Massachusetts real estate attorneys at Pulgini & Norton handle all areas of residential property law.  We have assisted individuals with zoning applications and building permits, title actions, mortgage re-financing, sales transactions, and other real estate matters.  Request a consultation with one of our attorneys by calling (781) 843-2200 or submitting our website contact form.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Landowners Successfully Challenge Permit Issued for Housing Development Next to Their Property, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published September 19, 2016

Massachusetts Beachfront Property Owners Take Legal Action to Determine Location of Right of Way Easement, Massachusetts Real Estate Lawyer Blog, published June 6, 2018

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