On January 4, 2017, the Land Court, Scheier J., issued a decision in Stafford v. Flett, Land Court Docket No. 15 MISC 000134 (KFS), which granted declaratory judgment to P&A's client, the Defendant, declaring that she owns outright an area of her property that included a parking spot, grassy slope, staircase, and cobblestones and flagstones pavers (the "Disputed Area"), free and clear of any of the Plaintiff's claims. In its decision, the Court denied the Plaintiff's claims for adverse possession of or, in the alternative, a prescriptive easement over the Disputed Area. The Court agreed that the element of adverse use required for claims for adverse possession and prescriptive use rights was not established by the Plaintiff due to an oral license agreement allowing Plaintiff to use the Disputed Area, which agreement had been in place since the putatively-adverse use had begun.
Gone are the days when all real estate transactions are individually signed by each party and completed contracts are exchanged on paper. Rather, in today's digital age, many dealings are handled through electronic signatures, or what are deemed to be electronic signatures, with no exchange of actual signed paper documents. While this has sped up the pace of forming and finalizing real estate contracts, and created great convenience for buyers, sellers, real estate agents and attorneys, it also raises important questions about when and if a contract has been formed, the terms of that contract and, of course, has created fertile ground for disputes. There are two primary types of disputes that have emerged. One concerns whether negotiations conducted via email or even text message can form a valid and binding agreement. The second involves whether a written contract, the terms to which have been agreed to, can be made effective without an ink to paper signature. In either instance, it behooves participants in transactions involving the sale or lease of real property to understand what constitutes a legally binding agreement in the state of Massachusetts.