Title & Boundary Dispute Law in Massachusetts
If you discover that you and your neighbor's use of your respective properties do not reflect the legal property lines, this can create a problem.
Sometimes, neighbors will decide amongst themselves that the issue isn't worth fighting over, and will go on as they did before. This is particularly likely if the neighbors are on good terms, and the difference between their use of the land, and the actual property lines, is small (say, a few feet or less). This is an ideal situation, at least in the short term. It can, however, cause problems in the future - preventing a neighbor from enforcing the actual property lines, if they suddenly have a reason to do so.
Consequently, neighbors more frequently end up in some type of legal dispute over whether and to what extent the property lines should be enforced. Obviously, when the property lines are changed, one neighbor wins, and the other loses. It should come as no surprise, then, that legal fights are often the result.
In addition to the boundary disputes mentioned above, land owners and buyers in Southbridge, Massachusetts should also be aware of the possibility of a title dispute. Rather than being a disagreement over the exact boundaries between two pieces of land, a title dispute is a conflict over who actually owns an entire plot of land. Uncertainty over ownership of land can come up more often than you might think, and is most often caused by a buyer's failure to correctly record a deed, or the accidental loss or destruction of a deed. Sometimes, however, these disputes can be more dishonest in origin: on occasion, unscrupulous sellers of land will attempt to sell the same parcel to more than one person. Obviously, once you've sold land to one person, you can't sell the same land to someone else, as you no longer own it. These tricksters know this, but are attempting to gain a large amount of money through the multiple sales. Once this is done, they typically attempt to flee the state or country before the buyers discovery they've been duped. This leaves it up to the buyers to figure out amongst themselves who owns the land.
Possible Outcomes of Boundary and Title Disputes in Southbridge, Massachusetts
One customary resolution for boundary disputes is a court re-drawing the boundaries to fit with what the assumptions that the neighbors were operating under before the error was discovered. This typically happens when both parties were, for many years, aware of the actual property boundaries, and did nothing about it. Moreover, if the neighbor who has been encroaching onto the other neighbor's land has made costly improvements thereto, this weighs in favor of that neighbor, since changing the property lines would impose significant hardship on that neighbor.
A court might do the opposite, and decide to enforce the property lines as they're drawn. This will always benefit one neighbor and hurt the other. A court will probably do this if one neighbor knew that his land was encroaching onto another person's property, and actively tried to hide that fact from his neighbor. Obviously, such bad behavior shouldn't be rewarded. Conversely, if the neighbor whose land was being encroached upon knew about the discrepancy, and did nothing about it, the court will probably change the property lines to reflect this prior use, to prevent that neighbor from being rewarded for "sitting on his rights."
In Southbridge, Massachusetts courts have many options when it comes to resolving title disputes. However, these disputes are usually governed by some fairly confusing (and old) legal principles. While they're usually built around policies that most people would find to be quite fair and reasonable, their application can be nearly impenetrable, even for some lawyers.
Without delving into the details too much, courts typically resolve title disputes by looking at who recorded the deed first, and whether or not that person had notice of any prior sales of the same land. To succeed in a dispute like this, a buyer will usually need to prove that they were the first to record their deed, and that they had no notice (or reason to know) of any prior conveyances of the same land.
What Can A Southbridge, Massachusetts Attorney Do?
Because of the high stakes, going it alone in a boundary or title dispute is rarely prudent. Therefore, it's almost always a good idea to get a good Southbridge, Massachusetts real estate attorney to help you with such legal problems.