Property Law Developments

Distinguishing between a right of first refusal and a restraint on alienation

The Massachusetts Land Court decided an interesting case interpreting a conveyance that reads like a right of first refusal but can be interpreted as a broader restraint on alienation giving discretion to a nonprofit entity to refuse absolutely to any transfer of the land. Gottlieb v. Girl Scouts of E. Mass., 2016 WL 3523859 (Mass. Land Ct. 2016).

Fee simple absolute found despite language of "in trust" and "for the uses, purposes" of the YWCA

In a standard application of traditional estates doctrine, the Massachusetts Appeals Court has found a fee simple absolute despite language in the grant to the YWCA stating that the property was given "in trust, nevertheless, for the uses, purposees and trusts aforesaid." Young Women's Christian Ass'n, Inc. of Boston, Inc. v. Young Women's Christian Ass'n of Philadelphia, Inc., 90 Mass. App. Ct. 1119, 2016 WL 7162737 (Table) (Mass. 2016).

Servitudes to be interpreted to promote the intent of the parties and not strictly construed

The Utah Supreme Court joined others in adopting the modern view that servitudes (restrictive covenants) should be interpreted to effectuate the intent of the parties, rather than interpreting them strictly so as to maximize the rights of the owner of the burdened property, as the traditional rule held. Fort Pierce Ind. Park Phases II, III & IV Owners Ass'n v. Shakespeare, (Utah 2016).

Why you should record your mortgage

In a straight-forward application of the relevant recording statute, the Massachusetts Land Court has held that a son who received a deed to the land without notice of a prior reverse mortgage is not subject to the mortgage since it was not recorded and he had no other means to achieve notice of it. 57 N.E.3d 1065 (Mass. App. Ct. 2016).

Town's extension of an easement to the general public overburdens and exceeds the scope of the easement

The Massachusetts Appeals Court has held that opening an easement to the general public may overburden it when the easement had not previously been used in that manner, giving the owner of the servient estate the chance to prove that the increased use interfered with his retained property rights in the underlying land and exceeded the scope of the rights included in the easement. Goff v. Town of Randolph, 56 N.E.3d 893 (Table), 2016 WL 4258381 (Mass. App. Ct. 2016).

Another court holds that sexual orientation discrimination is a form of sex discrimination

A federal district court has held that discrimination because of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination. EEOC v. Scott Med. Health Ctr., P.C., 2016 U.S. DIst. LEXIS 153744 (W.D. Pa. 2016). Plaintiff complained of a sexually hostile work environment by deriding his sexual orientation.

Sex offender cannot be evicted from state-subsidized housing because of regulatory limitation imposed after the lease began

The Connecticut Supreme Court has held that a registered sex offender cannot be evicted from housing subisidized by the state when he obtained the subsidy and the housing before passage of the state law banning such assistance. Shannon v. Comm'r of Housing, 140 A.3d 903 (Conn. 2016) (see dissenting opinion here).

Engagement rings must be returned if the marriage does not happen

The Supreme Court of Viriginia held that engagement rings are conditional gifts given in contemplation of marriage and that, when the marriage is called off, the ring donor has a right to have the ring returned. McGrath v. Dockendorf, 2016 Va. LEXIS 187 (Va. 2016). The technical holding of the case was that such claims are not barred by the "heart balm" statute,