A petition to partition initiates a legal proceeding, which allows a co-owner of real property to dispose of the same by physical division or forcing a sale. Petitions to partition are governed by G.L. c. 241. Each co-owner of property has the "'equal right of entry, occupation and enjoyment'". Hershman-Tcherepnin v. Tcherepnin, 452 Mass. 77, 90 (2008), quoting Muskeget Island Club v. Prior, 228 Mass. 95, 96 (1917). However, if, for whatever reason, a co-owner no longer wishes to hold title to the property with his or her other co-owners, then that individual has an absolute right to file a petition to partition to dispose of the co-owned property. See Hershman-Tcherepnin, supra at 92. Parties can, however, enter a contract that may limit or restrain their rights to partition co-owned property, if the restraint is for a reasonable period of time. See id. at 93.
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.
A recent (unpublished) Rule 1:28 decision, Hancock v. Chambers, 85 Mass. App. Ct. 1106 (2014), reminds both condominium owners and trustees and attorneys of the care that needs to be taken when drafting-and attempting to enforce-condominium trust documents so that they ultimately make operative sense.