A significant percentage of our case load, here, at Phillips & Angley, involves disputes over easements, also known as use rights, particularly over access and private way issues. Easement law comprises some of the oldest law in the United States, as we inherited many of the legal concepts and rules from England, in Colonial times. It has its own terms of art, causes of action and particular rules, developed over the centuries as the common law has evolved. This is the first in a series of posts that are intended to give a basic primer on these issues.
Boston area property developers are familiar with the many nuance that come with purchasing and developing property in the area. Most properties require many permits, approvals, etc. One thing a buyer should be aware of is any existing easements that may affect a property.
Boston area property developers often understand that development can be complicated. One of the issues that frequently comes up are easement disputes.
Massachusetts contains thousands of private streets and ways; on and along those ways innumerable residents of this Commonwealth live. We know that the Derelict Fee Statute operates to resolve ownership questions regarding these private ways. However, the "statute pertains only to the question of ownership of the fee [in a private way]"; it does not govern use, maintenance, or other rights and/or obligations over a way, which, for the purposes of this blog post, fall within the province of the common law of easements. Adams v. Planning Bd. of Westwood, 64 Mass. App. Ct. 383, 389 (2005).
Utility easements are something most business owners probably do not even think about until it affects their site planning and development. Suddenly, they find themselves wondering not only what a utility easement is, but also how to circumnavigate the restrictions that come with these easements.
A few weeks ago, the Appeals Court issued a decision that potentially affects several landlocked parcels in Aquinnah (Gay Head) on Martha's Vineyard. As a result of this decision (Kitras v. Town of Aquinnah, 87 Mass. App. Ct. 10 (2015)), which reversed and remanded a Land Court decision/judgment, these landlocked parcels have been deemed to have easement rights that have been in dispute for some time. Or at least that's what the majority opinion decided. There was a stong dissent written by Associate Justice Peter W. Agnes.
Initially, this post was going to be about the substantive portions of the disputed claims in Perry v. Nemira, 2015 WL 179045, 11 MISC 457157 (AHS) (Mass. Land Ct. Jan. 15, 2015), which focused primarily on claims of right via prescriptive easements and adverse possession. In a word, the decision is lengthy (mostly due to the various chains of title that must be parsed out) and hard to condense into a neat little blog post.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) confirmed that its move away from the common law requirement of mutual consent for easement relocation was broad and included the ability to alter not only the location but the dimensions of easements. The SJC's decision in Martin v. Simmons Properties, LLC, on January 16, 2014 presented the SJC with its first chance to elaborate upon and expand its prior holding in M.P.M. Builders, LLC v. Dwyer, 442 Mass. 87, 809 N.E.2d 1053 (2004), discussed in detail in my article on developments in the eight years since the M.P.M. Builders decision.
Landowners who purchase and combine multiple, adjoining lots can sometimes find themselves in a quandary if there is an existing easement that benefits only one of those lots. To illustrate, picture three adjacent lots: A, B, and C. When these lots were initially created, an easement was created on Lot A so that the owner of Lot B could access his lot. There was no similar easement created for Lot C at that time.
We normally don't post news items from outside Massachusetts, but this ongoing saga is just too interesting that we had to share. Plus, considering it's summer, it just makes for good "beach" reading.