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Land Court Orders Removal Of Structures Beyond Scope Of Easement

An easement "creates a nonpossessory right to enter and use land in the possession of another and obligates the possessor not to interfere with the uses authorized by the easement." Patterson v. Paul, 448 Mass. 658, 663 (2007).  In other words, a property owner can grant another party the right to use his property in certain ways - such as the right to enter and walk through it - without giving up ownership of the property.  Disputes can arise, however, when either party misunderstands or abuses the rights involved. 

For example, the Land Court recently found for a plaintiff property owner ("Plaintiff") in a dispute with defendant easement holders ("Defendants") over their use of an easement on Cape Cod.  See Mastrobattista v. Scott, No. 14 MISC 485877 (KCL), 2015 WL 4660031 (Mass. Land Ct. Aug. 6, 2015).  Thirty years ago - and over 25 years before Plaintiff acquired his parcel - the prior owner granted an easement to the owners of an adjacent lot, who were constructing a house.  The 25-foot wide easement ran from the road to the side of the lot where a garage was to be built, "for access to gararage [sic] and building facilities... and for passage of vehicles and pedestrians, the parking of vehicles of the grantees and their invitees, maintaining a driveway and parking area and for landscaping."  Id. at **1-2.  When Defendants acquired the property, they converted the garage to part of their interior living space and on the remaining easement area they built, among other things, a "high fence enclosing a much larger area and, inside that area, an expanded (8 x 12) pool surrounded by a large wooden deck with extensive outdoor furniture," largely eliminating the driveway and parking area.  Id.

When Plaintiff purchased his property, he challenged Defendants' use of the easement and brought suit against them in Land Court.  Id. at *3.  Because Plaintiff's parcel is registered land - meaning the Land Court has adjudicated and certified the status of the title thereto - any easement on the property would need to appear on the certificate of title.  See Tetrault v. Briscoe, 398 Mass. 454, 461 (1986).  The Court thus focused its attention on whether the structures constructed on the easement area were consistent with the uses enumerated in the written easement.  See Mastrobattista, 2015 WL 4660031 at *4.  Since the structures impeded "access, passage, parking or the maintenance of a driveway and parking area," the Court reasoned they would either qualify as "landscaping" under the easement or require removal.  Id. at 5.  Because the structures each were "built for specific uses," however, they fell "outside the easement's 'landscaping' rights."  Id. at 5-6.  Defendants' structures went "well beyond the scope of the easement" and therefore the Court ordered their removal.  Id. at **5, 7.

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