Question of the Day: Who owns “our” road?

If you take Berry Corner Rd. from Rte. 169 to my parents’ house, here’s what you see: The road turns to the left up Ayers Rd. (If you didn’t know about it, you would just think that the road curved, not that you changed roads.) Continuing straight goes down an unpaved portion of what is now or formerly still Berry Corner Rd. (Down this road is our house’s driveway.) Turning to the right would go down my parents’ driveway.

So, there’s this unpaved portion of Berry Corner Rd., which goes from my parents’ driveway and through to Sturbridge.

This road, at some point, used to be a town road.

We thought that this road was still a town road, because the Town Clerk thought that it was a town road. However, she later found out that in fact, her records were wrong, and Town Meeting discontinued the road, from the intersection with Ayers to the Sturbridge town line, in 1955. (Our wild guess is that the town didn’t want to maintain it after damage from the Flood of ’55.)

So, I’m not quite sure who owned the land at that point. Did the town still own it, just not as a public road? Or was it “split”, so that the people who own the land across that road from us own their half of the road, and owner in 1955 owned their half of the road? I’ve heard that it was the latter, although I’m not completely sure.

The land has changed hands a few times since then. Most recently, most of it went to my parents, and they gave a portion of it to us. However, the deeds describing the transfer define the lot boundaries relative to a metal pole, which is fully off of the road. However, the deeds also describe the lot as being a portion (or the remaining part) of a lot deeded to the seller. So I’m not sure which takes precedence.

So, is the unpaved portion of Berry Corner Rd. owned by (a) nobody, (b) the town, (c) a previous owner, or (d) my parents and/or us?

I’d kind of want to buy any portions of the road not currently owned by us, but I want how much that is, and who to buy it from. (For instance, I want to ensure I have the right to take my car down this road to get to our house. I’ve heard that there’s a law allowing continued usage of a road if it’s been used for a certain amount of time, but I don’t really know where to find information on that, either.)

How would I go about actually trying to find this all out? I assume some sort of lawyer, but I’m not even sure what I’m trying to ask, or how much I’d be willing to spend to find out.

5 thoughts on “Question of the Day: Who owns “our” road?

  1. There is a law regarding land not actively in use by its “owner” which is being used by an individual. It’s a federal law: it’s been around since the days of the “land grab.” Basically it states that if you use a piece of land for 7 years and can prove that you were the only one actively using that piece of land for those 7 years, then that land is yours.

    Any persons who wish to protect their property or to claim land should get their land surveyed at least once every 7 years and keep the documentation of that survey. Where I grew up and there were acres upon acres of forest, the boundries were also marked by little plastic poles or flags in bright colors.

    As for how to claim the land as yours officially, I’m not certain, but I imagine it involves visiting the Town Clerk’s office and explaining that you’ve been using the land for 7 years and would like the paperwork proclaiming that you own it. If the land is owned by the town, they will fight you on this.

  2. There’s a similar concept in common law known as adverse posession.
    The procedure goes like this:
    You use land you don’t own openly as if you did. This means you can’t take actions to conceal your activities or anything like that.
    In New York it’s 10 years, it’s 20 in alot of other states. The actual time period is specified in the state’s Statute of Limitations on land claims.
    After the period of time has passed, you can do one of two things. The easier thing is to do nothing. The transfer of ownership is automatic as long as you can prove your use was longer than the period required in your state.
    If you want something more official, like to prove to someone else that you really own the land, you can go to court and file a lawsuit “to quiet title”. This just means that a court reviews the ownership question regarding the land and the court’s decision replaces a deed for ownership proof purposes.

  3. Well, my parents have been using it for more than 20 years. In what court would we do that? Is there a defendent on the lawsuit?

  4. Procedurally, it’s far too complicated a procedure to handle pro se. Your best course of action would be to find a real estate lawyer and tell him/her you want to file an “action to quiet title” (use those words). If you can bring a map of the area with you it’ll help, and the lawyer know all the questions to ask.

    Also, upon rereading, I think you’re making an assumption you shouldnt be making. You seem to think roads are owned by the town. They almost never owned by the town. You own the land and the town has a right of way over it for road purposes. So once the road is abandonned by the town you own the land into the middle of the street. That’s an almost universal way of handling road ownership.

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