Massachusetts property rights: when control of your land is threatened

When a landowner’s interest is jeopardized, legal counsel can review the potential legal options.

Ownership interest in real estate must be airtight and legally sound. For most people, their homes and other real estate investments, such as cottages, oceanfront land, second homes or rural plots, are their most valuable assets. In the commercial context, real estate deals can involve substantial amounts of money to all involved.

Two areas in which legal problems in property ownership occur are:

  • Questions about title raised by mistakes or omissions in legal documents; unrecorded transfers, liens or other encumbrances; breaks in historical ownership succession; problematic covenants and land-use limits; and more
  • Disputes about boundaries caused by unclear or inconsistent land or easement descriptions in deeds; conflicting understanding of where physical boundary lines are vis-à-vis buildings, driveways, trees and landscaping, monuments and other physical objects or markers; adverse possession claims in which one party uses or occupies land of another over time; and more

These legal issues can raise complex, difficult questions of Massachusetts real estate and property law, so it is important to obtain experienced legal counsel if you are the owner, buyer or seller of residential or commercial real estate.

At the time of a transaction, a knowledgeable real estate attorney can draft or review legal documents involved in buying, selling, encumbering or transferring ownership interest in land and buildings. Particularly crucial is the deed, the legal document that conveys ownership interest in real property. In the deed, the property description, parties, transfer language and other key terms must be precisely and accurately drafted in order to prevent legal problems related to title.

In addition, legal counsel can assist in correctly recording all necessary documents in government offices like the local Registry of Deeds.

If a person or business finds itself in a boundary dispute or conflict with a neighbor over an easement or limitation on land use, a skilled lawyer with knowledge of the legal remedies available should be consulted to understand the options for resolving the dispute.

Common examples of such disputes are:

  • Discrepancy between physical land features, including boundary markers, monuments or pins, and legal descriptions or surveys
  • Discrepancy between multiple professional surveys
  • Conflict between placement and use of a fence, building, driveway, sidewalk, garden or other physical object, and legal description, survey or historical usage
  • Issues about easements, usually concerning a landowner's right to pass over another's land to get to its landlocked plot
  • Challenges to variances or special use permits issued by local zoning or other government authorities
  • And more

To resolve a real estate dispute, an owner can either negotiate a resolution with the neighbor or take legal action like filing a suit to quiet title or other appropriate lawsuit. A skilled attorney can help weigh the pros and cons of these choices.

Negotiation is often cheaper than going to court and the matter might be resolvable with creative compromise. In a boundary dispute, for example, the two parties could split the cost of a professional survey and agree to abide by the findings. However resolved, legal counsel should draft or review the resulting agreement and publicly file any necessary documents.

If negotiation fails, litigation in Massachusetts state court may be the remaining option. An experienced litigator will gather the relevant evidence for presentation to the court, including research of historical property records, detailed review of relevant legal documents, existing and new surveys and more.

From their office in Boston, the experienced real estate attorneys of Phillips & Angley represent clients in the Boston metro area and throughout Eastern Massachusetts in property sales and purchases, real estate disputes and other related matter

Keywords: landowner, Massachusetts, property, land, ownership, real estate, title, lien, boundary dispute, easement, adverse possession, deed, survey, negotiation, litigation, documents