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.
It's usually possible, though not always easy, for neighbors to come to a resolution of these disputes on their own. If the neighbors happen to like one another, and the difference between the actual property lines and what they believed the property lines to be is very small (a foot or two, for example), they might simply decide to go on as they had before. This is certainly a desirable solution in the short term, since it saves everyone a great deal of time and energy. However, in the long term, this can cause problems, particularly if one neighbor decides they want to enforce the legal property lines down the road.
Usually, when this happens, the owner of the property which is being encroached upon wants to expand their property to reflect the legal boundaries, and the owner of the land that will be shrunk by recognizing the legal property lines will want to keep the situation as it is.
In Worcester, Massachusetts, property can also be the subject of title disputes, rather than boundary disputes described above. These types of disputes stem from disagreements over who owns a piece of property. Confusion in this area is more common than one might think. If a deed is improperly recorded, land can be "owned" by 2 people simultaneously. Even more troublesome is when land is "sold" to more than one person. This is usually inadvertent, but some people do it deliberately, hoping to abscond the profits gained by selling the same thing twice. In cases like this, a court has to determine which buyer owns the land. This is a big deal, considering how unlikely it is that a defrauded buyer could get his or her money back.
Possible Outcomes of Boundary and Title Disputes in Worcester, Massachusetts
One way to resolve boundary disputes is to simply re-draw the property lines to reflect what the neighbors thought they were all along. When this happens, nobody's situation changes, and it's generally considered a neutral result (causing no significant loss or gain to either party). This is often done if both of the neighbors knew about the actual property lines for many years, and didn't do anything about it. A court might also take this course of action if enforcing the property lines would impose a significant hardship on one of the parties, not outweighed by the overall benefits of doing so.
Of course, there are plenty of reasons why a court might decide to enforce the property lines as the records indicate. If one neighbor knew about the discrepancy, and hid it from the other neighbor (presumably because the neighbor with the knowledge of the discrepancy benefited from it), a court will, of course, not reward this kind of dishonesty, and will decide against that neighbor. On the other hand, if the neighbor whose land would be expanded by enforcing the "real" property boundaries knew this fact, and took no action for many years, a court will probably not be receptive if he or she suddenly tries to enforce them. This is referred to as "sitting on one's rights," and courts will not reward this, either. If you have a legal right, you're expected to make efforts to vindicate it as soon as possible. If you don't, a court will essentially say "I guess it wasn't that important to you if you waited 10 years to bring this to our attention. Next case."
In the case of disputes over title, courts have to figure out who owns a particular piece of real property. Courts will consider many factors, and there are some confusing and (in some cases) antiquated legal issues that guide Worcester, Massachusetts courts on these matters.
Without going into too much detail, the person who recorded their deed first will be the one who takes ownership, provided he or she did not know (or had no reason to know) of the existence of the other deed.
What Can A Worcester, Massachusetts Attorney Do?
As you might have gathered, it's not uncommon for the legal issues governing boundary and title disputes to get very complicated. Furthermore, any dispute that can affect one's use or ownership of land has very high stakes (land isn't usually cheap, after all). Therefore, it shouldn't come as a surprise that hiring a competent Worcester, Massachusetts real estate lawyer to help in situations like this is always a good idea.