Baltimore, MD asked in Real Estate Law and Land Use & Zoning for Maryland

Q: Can a neighbor claim possession of a community beach access pathway to the Chesapeake Bay?

Neighbor 1 has claimed possession of a community beach access pathway to the Chesapeake Bay .A 1923 deed conveyed right of access to the community. This right of access was confirmed in a 1935 court case ruling and also stated in a 1955 deed for the property in question. All subsequent deeds describe the edge of neighbor 1's property as starting along one side of the path but excluding the path itself. About 20 years ago, Neighbor 2 (on other side of path) erected a fence that along the path about 20 years ago and Neighbor 1 placed brick pavers along the path also about 20 years ago, effectively incorporating that path into his property. There is no explicit indication of this incorporation in tax or property records. Neighbor 2 filed a quit claim deed this year that purports to convey the path to neighbor 1 in response to other neighbors who raised the right of access issue. Neighbors 1 and 2 have reacted litigiously against neighbor 3 suing that neighbor for harassment.

1 Lawyer Answer
Thomas C. Valkenet
Thomas C. Valkenet
  • Real Estate Law Lawyer
  • Baltimore, MD
  • Licensed in Maryland

A: You do not disclose whether you are 1, 2, 3 or perhaps an undisclosed 4. An academic response would require any lawyer to review the past title chain, the case law you reference, and perhaps inspect the conditions on the ground. You also mention at least one live lawsuit arising from the facts.

Generally, rights of way for access that appear in the public records, or as stated easements in deeds, cannot be unilaterally extinguished. There must be proof of "abandonment," as defined in the cases. Also, a right of way can be owned by individual parcel owners, subject to easement rights of others. The decorative landscaping you describe does not preclude continued use of the right of way.

Depending on who you are in relation to the right of way, consider making claim on your title insurance policy. Recorded access rights that are denied by others is the most common trigger to a claim.

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