Massachusetts Law School 1L Study Guide for Property
I. Introduction to Property Rights
Property law is concerned with the rules and principles governing the ownership and use of land and personal items. The concept of property encompasses real property (land and things permanently attached to land like buildings) and personal property (moveable items).
II. Possession and Ownership
- The Finders Keepers Rule: The person who finds a lost item may become its owner, depending on the circumstances under which it was found.
- Bailment: A relationship where one person (the bailor) transfers possession of personal property to another (the bailee) for a specific purpose.
- Adverse Possession: Acquiring title to land through open, notorious, hostile, and continuous possession for a statutory period.
III. Estates in Land
- Fee Simple Absolute: The most complete form of ownership, potentially lasting forever.
- Life Estate: Ownership that lasts for the life of a specified individual.
- Defeasible Estates: Estates that may end upon the occurrence of a particular event.
- Concurrent Estates: Ownership or possession of property by more than one person at the same time.
IV. Transferring Real Property
- Deeds: A legal document that transfers ownership of real property from grantor to grantee.
- Warranties of Title: Promises made by the seller regarding the status of the property title.
- Recording Statutes: Massachusetts follows a race-notice recording statute. A subsequent bona fide purchaser who records their deed first has priority over earlier unrecorded conveyances.
V. Landlord-Tenant Law
- Leasehold Estates: A tenant’s right to possess property for a specified period.
- Implied Warranty of Habitability: A landlord must maintain a property in a condition fit for human habitation.
- Eviction: The legal process by which a landlord may remove a tenant from rented property.
- Easements: A nonpossessory interest to use land owned by another person for a specific purpose.
- Creation: Easements can be created by express grant, implication, or prescription (similar to adverse possession).
- Termination: Easements can be terminated by various means including expiration, release, or abandonment.
VII. Nuisance Law
- Private Nuisance: An interference with an individual’s quiet enjoyment of their land.
- Public Nuisance: An unreasonable interference with a right common to the general public.
VIII. Zoning and Land Use Regulation
- Zoning Ordinances: Laws that regulate the use of land within a municipality based on designated zones.
- Variances: Permission to use land in a way that is not consistent with local zoning ordinances.
- Eminent Domain: The power of the government to take private property for public use upon payment of just compensation.
IX. Land Trusts and Conservation Easements
- Land Trusts: Arrangements where the legal title to real property is held by a trustee for the benefit of others.
- Conservation Easements: Legal agreements that permanently limit uses of the land to protect its conservation values.
X. Case Law
Armory v. Delamirie (1722)
Issue: Whether a chimney sweep’s boy who found a jewel had a better title to the jewel than the defendant who refused to return it.
Rule: A finder of a lost item has rights superior to everyone except the true owner.
Analysis: The court ruled that the finder of a jewel, even a chimney sweep’s boy, has a right to the jewel over all others except the rightful owner.
Conclusion: The jeweler was compelled to return either the original jewel or its full value to the chimney sweep’s boy.
Johnson v. M’Intosh (1823)
Issue: Whether Native Americans had the right to sell their land, or whether the right to convey the land belonged exclusively to the federal government.
Rule: The right to transfer land title was held by the federal government; therefore, private citizens could not purchase lands directly from Native Americans.
Analysis: The court held that the discovery doctrine gave exclusive title to lands to the government.
Conclusion: Title obtained from the government was superior to that obtained from Native Americans.
O’Keeffe v. Snyder (1980)
Issue: Whether O’Keeffe, an artist who had her paintings stolen, timely commenced an action for replevin to recover the paintings from Snyder, who had bought them in good faith after they were stolen.
Rule: The statute of limitations for recovery of stolen property begins to run when the owner is in possession of facts that would lead to the discovery of the loss or theft and the identity of the possessor.
Analysis: The court concluded that O’Keeffe did not diligently pursue her rights upon learning of the theft.
Conclusion: The statute of limitations had expired, so O’Keeffe could not reclaim her paintings.
Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council (1992)
Issue: Whether a state law that prohibited Lucas from building on his beachfront property amounted to a taking under the Fifth Amendment.
Rule: A regulation that deprives property of all economically beneficial use is a taking, requiring just compensation.
Analysis: The court held that the state’s regulations rendered Lucas’s property valueless and constituted a taking.
Conclusion: Lucas was entitled to compensation for the taking of his property.
Understanding property law in Massachusetts involves knowing the specific rules and regulations that govern land and personal property within the state. Familiarity with case law, statutes, and common law principles is essential for a comprehensive grasp of the subject. Students should focus on the doctrines that are highlighted in this study guide, examining legal principles, cases, and the unique aspects of Massachusetts property law. This will ensure adequate preparation for a final semester exam in a Massachusetts Law School 1L Property class.