Massachusetts law about adverse possession

A compilation of laws, cases, and web sources on adverse possession law (sometimes called "squatter's rights").

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Table of Contents

Massachusetts laws

MGL c.7C, § 32 No right by adverse possession to land held by commonwealth

MGL c.185, § 53 No title to registered land through adverse possession


20 years

MGL c.260, § 21 Recovery of land claimed by adverse possession after 20 years

MGL c.260, § 22 Time spent by a predecessor counts

MGL c.260, § 28 Open possession to retain possession

MGL c.260, § 29 Barring remainders and reversions

MGL c.260, § 30 Effect of death of tenant

MGL c.260, § 31 Actions by commonwealth

Selected case law

1148 Davol Street LLC v. Mechanic's Mill One LLC, 86 Mass. App. Ct. 748 (2014)
A cause of action for adverse possession against a private party can begin to accrue during prior public ownership of the land. "Nothing in the statutory language [of MGL c.260, s.31] immunizes such lands [privately owned lands that had previously been publicly owned] from having an adverse possession claim begin to accrue during the period of public ownership."

Cook v. Babcock, 65 Mass. 206 (1853) 
"A party…must show an actual, open, exclusive, and adverse possession of the land. All these elements are essential to be proved, and the failure to establish any one of them is fatal to the validity of the claim."

Holmes v. Johnson, 324 Mass. 450 (1949)
"Acquisition of title through adverse possession is a fact . . . to be proved by the one asserting the title. The burden of proof extends to all of the  necessary elements of such possession . . . ."

Miller v. Abramson, 95 Mass. App. Ct. 828 (2019)
In a case about a sliver of land in a suburban neighborhood, the plaintiff's use of the land " precisely as the average owner of similar property would use it in a suburban neighborhood populated with single-family homes," by mowing and maintaining it, was enough to allow a finding of adverse possession.

Ryan v. Stavros, 348 Mass. 251 (1964)

Title by adverse possession can be acquired only by proof of nonpermissive use which is actual, open, notorious, exclusive, and adverse for twenty years.

Web sources

Adverse possession, by Gary F. Casaly.
Discussion of elements of and defenses to adverse possession.

Adverse possession basics, by Konstantine Kyros.
Basics and theories behind this doctrine.
“Your possession must be adverse to the owner’s claim, in other words without the owner’s consent. If the owner has given permission for you to be on the property you can't claim the property adversely.”

“Property registered through the land court can not be adversely possessed.”

Mass. real estate law blog
Includes tips to prevent adverse possession, including filing a “quiet title” lawsuit in the Land Court, and submitting one’s land to the Land Court registration system. “A landowner can obtain adverse possession only by filing a lawsuit…The Massachusetts Land Court hears adverse possession cases along with the Superior Court.”

The Massachusetts quiet title action: A remedy of last Resort to resolve complex title defects, by Richard D. Vetstein, Massachusetts Real Estate Blog.
Discusses the costs of filing a “quiet title” lawsuit in the Land Court, as a way to defend against adverse possession.

Superior Court model jury instruction: Adverse possession

When comprehensive prescriptive easements overlap adverse possession by Will Saxe, 33 B.C. Envtl. Aff. L. Rev. 175 (2006).
Part I of the article provides an analysis of the required elements of adverse possession and a review of its origins in English law.

Lawrence v. Concord: the doctrine of adverse possession restored and acquisition of title to government property, by Erin R. Boisvert, MBA Section Review, Vol. 6, No. 2 (2004).
Analysis of a case involving municipal property.

Print sources

Crocker's notes on common forms, MCLE 2020, Chapter 26.

Real estate law with forms, 5th ed., (Mass. practice v.28-28B), Thomson West, 2016 with supplements, Chapter 27.

Massachusetts Superior Court civil practice jury instructions3rd ed., MCLE, loose-leaf. Chapter 17, Real Estate.

A practical guide to disputes between adjoining landowners-easements, v. 1, Matthew Bender, 1989 with supplement, Chapter 7.


Last updated: October 25, 2022