MEEB WINS PARKING EASEMENT CASE AT APPEALS COURT

Published on: July 26, 2016

One June 23, 2016 the Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed a Judgment of the Land Court in the case of Thomas Graves Landing Condominium v. Paul Gargano.  In this case, the Condominium Association gave a release deed for an easement over the common area parking lot to the FDIC in 1993 for use in connection with a commercial unit at the condominium owned by the FDIC.  The release deed explicitly said that the condominium trust made no representation as to title and that the conveyance of the easement was based on whatever rights the condominium trust had to make the conveyance, if any.  The parking lot area, which became to be known as “Area B”, had lined parking spaces for twelve vehicles.  The FDIC eventually granted the commercial unit and parking easement to a lawyer named Paul Gargano.

Mr. Gargano operated his law office out of the unit.  In or about 2004 Mr. Gargano and the condominium had a dispute about gas that Mr. Gargano was using to heat his law office.  A subsequent dispute erupted in 2006 when Mr. Gargano claimed that he had an exclusive easement to the parking area (by virtue of the condominium trust’s grant to the FDIC in 1993) and that he was revoking a prior agreement he made with the condominium association to allow the area to be used for after-hours visitor parking.  A lawsuit followed by the condominium association alleging that the easement was invalidly granted and the parking area was common area of the condominium and that Gargano had no exclusive rights in and to the same and/or the ability to control the same.  After numerous delays and proceedings in the Land Court (including an interim proceeding in the Appeals Court) the Land Court issued a Judgment (nine years after the suit was brought) in 2015 holding that the easement granted by the condominium association in 1993 was invalid as it lacked unanimous unit owner consent.

At issue in the case was the state of condominium law in 1993.  In 1993, when the easement was granted, a condominium association needed 100% unit owner consent to grant easements.  The Massachusetts Condominium Act was amended in 1998 to allow condominium associations to grant easements to condominium unit owners by simple vote of a majority of its board of directors and trusts, together with the consent of the immediately adjoining unit owner and in some cases mortgagee consent.  The amending legislation did have limited retroactivity for existing easements, however, the retroactive provisions of the statute only applied to prior easements granted by a condominium association that were contained in a master deed.  This easement, as noted above, was contained in a separate release deed.  Accordingly, the Land Court and the Appeals Court both agreed that the 1998 legislation and its limited retroactivity provisions did not save the easement and 100% unit owner consent was still needed and that since it was not obtained, the condominium trust lacked authority to grant the easement and it is invalid and must be returned to the unit owners as unencumbered common area.

Mr. Gargano also claimed a host of equitable defenses, such as laches and estoppel to the condominium association’s attempt to invalidate the easement.  Both courts rejected these arguments, holding that equitable defenses cannot be utilized to grant someone title that the grantor had no authority to grant in the first place.

The case presents in interesting study in the history of the Massachusetts Condominium Act.  It is useful for condominium practitioners and condominium associations because it illustrates that statutory amendments do not always govern the existing relationship between the parties.  It further illustrates that just because there is a document recorded at the registry of deeds, it does not mean that it is valid.

For a copy of the Land Court Decision [click here] and for a copy of the Appeals Court Decision [click here]

The case was handled by Edmund A. Allcock.  For any questions regarding this article, please contact Ed Allcock at eallcock@meeb.com.