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How does solar easement law in Massachusetts work?


Property owners in Massachusetts will likely deal with solar easements at one point or another, and it is important to understand them.

Those owning property in Massachusetts may use easements already in their day-to-day life, while others may not even know what an easement is. An easement grants someone the right to use a designated area of property, even if it intersects with someone else’s land. For example, John may own a 2,000 square foot stretch of land, with a state highway cutting through. In order to secure the right to use the amount of space needed for the highway to function properly, the state gets an easement on John’s land allowing the highway to be built. Part of what this easement guarantees is that John cannot bulldoze part of the highway with his tractor in order for his cows to be able to cross.

Easements can be owned privately or, as in the above example, by government institutions. Easements are different from owning property, because while a property owner has full access to the property outlined in whatever deed they possess, an easement owner is guaranteed only a specific use of the land granted. In fact, if an easement was created for a certain purpose that can no longer be applied, the easement may be extinguished. A good example of this is the Massachusetts case from 1935 of Makepeace Bros. v. Town of Barnstable, where a whaling easement from the 18th century was extinguished as whaling had at that point ceased to be a legal activity.

Easements and others’ property

In order to gain an easement over part of someone else’s property, there has to be a reason good enough that the court decides it is worth granting access over the land (such as a water source for a canal, or an efficient route being needed for a road from one point to another). With solar energy being a part of many people’s lives now, the State of Massachusetts has developed some specific laws governing the granting and usage of solar easements. Part of the reason for this is because in order to gain access to the sun’s energy, a solar panel needs an unobstructed path between it and direct sunlight.

Solar easement rules

Solar easements are set up to give people the same rights and protections as any other easement, while including specific stipulations that cover the details of how they are used. For instance, such easements are allowed to contain provisions that the owner will be compensated if his or her sunlight is unlawfully obstructed. These easements will typically dictate what is considered a reasonable or unreasonable amount of obstruction of sunlight, based on how many hours of sunlight are needed and what the obstructing object may be. Often easements contain specific measurements indicating the way the area is to be used, and solar easement are often written with measurements of specific angles of sunlight that must hit a certain area (like the surface of a solar panel) for a certain period of time.

Anybody in Massachusetts who is looking to set up a solar easement in someone’s land, or who thinks that there may be something unlawful about the easement somebody else has through their land, may want assistance in understanding the intricacies of real estate law. It may be helpful to contact a lawyer in the local area who practices in this field of law.