Massachusetts adverse possession attorney

A recent court ruling confirms a legal principle in Massachusetts which a lot of folks may be surprised to learn. Under the legal theory of adverse possession, if you mow your neighbor’s lawn and otherwise conduct typical suburban lawn care on that property openly and adversely for 20 or more years, you can claim legal ownership of that area. I’m not kidding, this is the law, and this principle comes up more than you think in boundary line disputes in Massachusetts.

Boundary Line Dispute In Newton

The case is Miller v. Abramson (Mass. Appeals Court Aug. 29, 2019) and is a good example of a classic adverse possession lot line dispute.

The Miller family lives in a single-family home at 11 Fellsmere Road in Newton, on a corner lot at the intersection with Ward Street. The Abramson family lives at 211 Ward Street in Newton. Fellsmere Road dead-ends onto Ward Street. As shown on the plan (left), the back of the Millers’ property directly abuts one side line of the Abramsons’ lot. The parties’ shared lot line is straight, running from Ward Street to the back of the Abramsons’ property. The area disputed by the parties forms a thin triangle, about 492 square feet in size, the base of which is along the Abramsons’ back lot line and one side of which is along the parties’ shared lot line. Since the Millers bought their property in 1986, a line of shrubs and small trees have formed a demarcation of the disputed area from the Abramson’s property. Since 1986 to the present, the Millers and their landscaping company mowed the lawn weekly and undertaken typical residential landscaping work within the disputed area.

Lawn Mowing and Typical Suburban Landscaping Can Constitute Adverse Possession

On appeal after the Millers prevailed at a Superior Court jury-waived trial, the Abramson’s argued that lawn mowing and landscaping was not sufficiently intense a use to establish adverse possession. As I have argued in other cases, the three judge panel confirmed that “typical suburban lawn care” can establish adverse possession so long as it was conducted for 20 or more years. The Appeals Court reasoned that “the context supplied by the surrounding landscape is significant in an adverse possession case — a use that is sufficient to establish ownership in a densely populated neighborhood may be inadequate in an isolated, wooded setting.”

So basically what the Appeals Court is saying is that the uses which would qualify for adverse possession depend on the type of property and the typical uses of land for that type of property. Here, in the single family residential setting, typical suburban lawn mowing, tree pruning and landscaping will be sufficient for a landowner to make a valid adverse possession claim. If the property is in a more open, heavily wooded area, more uses may be necessary, such as cutting trees and clearing the land. Conversely, if the property is in a dense urban area, uses such as paving a driveway, installing a fence, or the like may be enough. It depends on the situation, and every case is different.

Take-Away’s — Get a Plot Plan and Owner’s Title Insurance

As a prospective buyer, seller or real estate agent, how can you minimize the risk of adverse possession and boundary line disputes? The gold standard is to have a licensed surveyor undertake an instrument survey and run survey stakes along all lot lines. However, such a survey does cost upwards of $1,000 or more. Most lenders require a mortgage plot plan (around $125) at closing, however, these are not 100% accurate, but they will typically flag a potential encroachment. Owner’s title insurance with enhanced coverage does provide some coverage (subject to a cap) for boundary line disputes, so I always recommend that buyers get this. While buyers often pay the most attention to inside the home with their inspection, it’s a good idea for buyers to walk the property and try to scope out any potential lot line issues.

If you are dealing with a Massachusetts property line or boundary line dispute, please feel free to contact me at [email protected].


I was honored to talk about boundary line disputes on this week’s Real Estate Radio Boston broadcast on WBZ 1030, hosted by Rick Scherer and Ali Alavi, Esq. The broadcast is below. Just click the Play button to listen! Or click on this link:  Real Estate Radio Boston | Richard Vetstein.

Tune into the broadcast every Saturday night from 8pm-9pm on WBZ 1030 AM. It’s a fantastic show!


property-line-survey-getty_f11341f289ae931d07403cac3726db78_3x2_jpg_300x200_q85Trial Report: Winiker v. Bell (Middlesex Superior Court CA 09-907)

I was lead trial counsel in a week-long adverse possession/boundary line dispute case back in August in Middlesex Superior Court before Judge Bruce Henry. We had closing arguments last week, and the judge’s decision just came down. I’m thrilled to report that we prevailed! Hard work (lots of it) does indeed pay off…

Judge Henry drafted a 13-page well-reasoned opinion, which I’ve embedded below. By and large, the judge accepted my view of the facts and the law, and cited many of the cases which I referenced in my briefs. The claimants, having been unable to establish adverse possession, were ordered by the judge to remove their driveway and retaining wall which encroaches onto my client’s property.

Some take-aways from the case:

  • Prepare, prepare, prepare. I had a lot more work on my side, with 8 testifying witnesses and a binder full of exhibits. I prepared for a solid two weeks before this trial, and by the trial, I knew every blade of grass and rock on the disputed area. I also had deposition testimony of the claimants which I used to impeach them when they inevitably changed their stories or failed to remember key details. I also had blowups of aerial photos of the property which were very helpful. Lastly, I convinced the trial judge to take a “view” of the property, so he could see the layout of the property himself. My opponent had much more trial experience than me, so I had to overcompensate by knowing the facts and law inside and out.
  • Track down old owners. Since my opponents were claiming adverse possession going back to the 1960’s, the first and most important thing we had to do was to track down all the old owners of my client’s property, and put together an accurate historical timeline of the property. Including my client, there were seven owners of the property! This was the only way my client could mount a defense against the claim. One of the old owners lived in Florida, and he came up to testify about having pig roasts near the disputed area, among other stories. Other former owners testified and a few were not exactly thrilled to be dragged into court.
  • Establish a theory of the case. Going into the trial, I knew that the claimants’ use of the disputed property — lawn mowing, landscaping, storing construction materials and snow plowing — was arguably not strong enough to establish adverse possession. I also knew that they did nothing to prevent the owners of my client’s property from accessing the disputed area. I hammered them continuously on each of the required elements of adverse possession, eventually punching holes in the foundation of their case. I also had to be a bit ruthless. My opponents’ age was in their 70’s, so I had to exploit their memory lapses. An amusing moment was when the husband produced an old photo of his 3 kids, but when questioned, could not remember the names or ages of his own children!

With yet another win under my belt, I have built a solid niche practice area in Massachusetts adverse possession law and boundary line disputes. I really enjoy working on these types of cases as they are factually intensive and usually have a fair share of nasty neighbor drama!

Listen to my recent radio appearance on boundary line disputes and adverse possession! Click play.


Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts adverse possession and boundary line dispute attorney who has tried numerous adverse possession cases in Land Court and Superior Court. Please contact me if you are dealing with a Massachusetts adverse possession dispute.

Samuel Winiker v. Kimberly BellJudgment, Findings of Fact and Rulings of Law