Having discussed what easements are, and how easements are created, this Part III of our series on easement basics will address how easements cease to exist-are extinguished or terminated. Once granted, an appurtenant easement generally has perpetual existence, as it comprises a vested property right, subject only to the application of various theories of extinguishment, recognized by Massachusetts common law. Therefore, if your property is subject to an easement, even a paper way, i.e., a right of way that exists only on paper, on a plan, and has not been developed on the ground, in order to use and/or develop your property as if the easement does not exist, you would need to satisfy the elements of one of the following theories: (1) release, (2) merger, (3) frustration of purpose / impossibility, (4) abandonment (5) adverse use, and (6) estoppel.
There are several competing factors at play when the energy and utility demands of a region increase. In New England, much of those demands can be seen during extreme temperatures, whether it is the heat waves of summer or protracted cold months in winter. In this region, many homes rely on natural gas to heat their homes during the winter.
We have repeatedly posted about the so-called Derelict Fee Statute, G. L. c. 183, § 58, in the past here at P & A. One aspect of the statute that we have not discussed is the interplay between the statute, which governs ownership of private ways, and the use rights that flow from properties' abutting the same. Many people, even seasoned practitioners, assume that ownership to the midpoint of the way carries with it an easement over the full length of the way. See Brennan v. DeCosta, 24 Mass. App. Ct. 968 (1987) ("[a]s a general rule, the title of persons who acquire land bounded by a street or way runs to the center line of the way, G.L. c. 183, § 58, and carries with it the right to use the way along its entire length").
A few years ago, we posted a piece on easement essentials and types of appurtenant easements. Expanding on that theme, this post focuses on the concept of appurtenance and the inherent limitations it places on such use rights. As the prior post informed, appurtenant easements run with, and benefit, the land to which they attach; whereas in gross easements are personal use rights. Most easements are appurtenant rather than in gross because, as a matter of Massachusetts law, "[a]n easement is not presumed to be personal unless it cannot be construed fairly as appurtenant to some estate." Willets v. Langhaar, 212 Mass. 573, 575 (1912).
Let's say you and a neighbor are in dispute about whether you've got a valid easement to cross over his property. Suppose the disputed portion of land is a dirt path that you need to use in order to access the boat launch at the pond shared by all the homes in your neighborhood. You assert that you have a right to travel on this dirt path. He disagrees, and even goes so far as to put up a locked gate across the path thereby blocking your access.