Appeals Court: Yard Work Alone Is Enough for Adverse Possession

Untitled design (28)

Homeowners in Newton, Massachusetts recently acquired a portion of their neighbors’ property by simply cutting the grass and trimming the shrubs without permission for over 20 years.

According to the facts of the case, the plaintiffs, Gary and Arlene Miller, purchased their home in 1986.  When they bought the house a row of shrubs created a boundary between them and their neighbors.  Apparently neither the Millers nor their neighbors realized that the shrubs veered off the legal boundary line.    The deviation made it appear that a portion of the neighbors’ backyard actually belonged to the Millers.

The Millers’ property, the shrubs and the disputed land are illustrated below:

miller v abramson exhibit

The Millers maintained the property as if it were their own from 1987 to the present.  This maintenance included cutting the grass, trimming the shrubs, fertilizing the lawn, and exterminating pests within the disputed area.

In 2015 the Millers’ neighbors, Christoffer and Cheryl Marie Abramsons, began to complain about the Millers’ use of the land.

The quarrel escalated and the Millers ultimately filed a lawsuit in Superior Court  to establish their ownership of the disputed property through adverse possession.

According to Massachusetts law a person may acquire legal title to another’s land by adverse possession if he can establish

proof of nonpermissive use which is actual, open, notorious, exclusive and adverse for twenty years.  Ryan v. Stavros, 348 Mass. 251, 262 (1964).

The Abramsons argued that periodic yard work alone was insufficient to satisfy the elements of adverse possession.

The Superior Court disagreed with the Abramsons and ruled in favor of the Millers.  The Abramsons appealed the decision.

The Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed the lower court’s judgment.  According to the appellate ruling:

Establishing title requires only that the possessor must use and enjoy the property continuously for the required period as the average owner would use it, without the consent of the true owner and therefore in actual hostility to [the true owner]
irrespective of the possessor’s actual state of mind or intent…In this case, the findings plainly demonstrated not only that the Millers engaged in the typical suburban lawn care found to give rise to ownership..but also that this activity occurred on a continuous basis…for more than twenty years.

If you have questions about real estate law, please contact me at justin@jrmccarthy.com.

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