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Serving
Massachusetts Agencies

Right to Repair and Maintain

Easements

The case of Mt. Holyoke Realty Corporation v. Holyoke Realty Corporation, 298 Mass. 513, 11 N.E.2d 429 (1937) is the story of a classic disintegration of relationships between neighbors. In this case the defendant had the benefit of an easement in a staircase within the plaintiff's building. The plaintiff brought the instant case in an attempt to prevent the defendant from making repairs to the staircase. Prior to the institution of the suit the plaintiff had persisted in its attempts to deprive the defendant of its rights in the easement. First, the plaintiff sought to destroy the staircase. Then, the plaintiff attempted to deprive the staircase of light and air. Finally, the plaintiff allowed the staircase to fall into disrepair and become useless as an access to the defendant's quarters. It was the culmination of these events that motivated the defendant to come upon the plaintiff's property and begin repairs to the staircase, igniting the situation and spawning the present suit. The court said this in connection with the defendant's right to make the repairs:

The plaintiff brings this bill to restrain the corporate defendant and its tenant from repairing and improving the plaintiff's property so as to remedy [the] condition. The master, whose report was confirmed, [found] that "the repairs intended to be made by the defendants are desirable and are reasonably necessary for the proper use and enjoyment of the easement by the defendants."

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Every right necessary for the enjoyment of an easement is included in it by implication. (Citations omitted.) The right to make necessary repairs is an incident to the easement.

It is clear from Mt. Holyoke Realty Corporation that the owner of the dominant estate has the right to make necessary repairs and improvements. But does that owner have the obligation to do so? The Restatement of the Law, Property-Servitudes, §485 states that "[i]f such duty exists it is assumed to be on the owner of the easement . . . [but] . . . goes only to the extent of requiring the owner of an easement to so maintain and repair the premises subject to the easement as to prevent unreasonable interference with the use of the servient tenement by the possessor of it." Clearly, the owner of the servient estate is not required to make repairs and improvements but may do so provided that the exercise of this right does not unreasonably interfere with the paramount rights of the owner of the dominant estate, to whom the easement was granted. See American Law of Property, Little Brown & Company (Third Printing, 1952), §§8.66, 8.70.

Also it said in Park, Massachusetts Practice, Real Estate Law, West Publishing Company (Second Edition, 1981), §279 that "[t]he grant of a general right of way includes the right to make reasonable repairs and improvements."