A recent decision by the Massachusetts Appeals Court overturns the right of a small lot property owner in Newton to build a home on its undersized parcel. Contrary to the building permits issued by Newton that would have otherwise allowed the new construction, ongoing real estate disputes between residential property owners in the area as well as ambiguous ordinance language led the Appeals Court to review and affirm the decision of the Massachusetts Land Court that prohibited building. The decision of the Appeals Court sets a significant precedent for other metropolitan communities, like Worcester, that decisions made by municipalities regarding zoning issues ultimately may not stand.
The basis of this real estate litigation matter centers on the sale of an 8,400 square foot parcel that has been commonly owned for nearly 100 years. When the owners sold the parcel to an individual who sought to build a private home on it, the relevant litigation ensued over whether Newton’s zoning ordinances would permit residential development on such a small lot.
Zoning and land use are complex areas of the law that establish how property owners may use their land and how their use of the land may impact the community as a whole. When the use of privately held land does not conform to the use that it is zoned for, or when zoning ordinances change and existing property no longer meets the requirements of its expected use, real estate disputes often occur between property owners. In the relevant case, residential property owners in Newton on both sides of the dispute challenged how the development of the undersized parcel would impact the community.
The decision of the Massachusetts Appeals Court highlights that real estate disputes and particularly residential property disputes are not uncommon and that even when a property owner has secured the proper municipal permits to modify their property, the state may intervene against the property owner.
Source: The Boston Globe, “Appeals Court backs limits on small-lot development in Newton,” Lisa Kocian and Deirdre Fernandes, Feb. 28, 2013