Historic court case has implications for property values

SJC case ruled that landlocked parcels don’t have ‘easement by necessity.’

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This map shows the approximate location of the tracts of land that the SJC ruled are not entitled to access. Because they are not buildable, values are going down by about half. — MVT File photo

Aquinnah property values are in for a major change after the ruling in the Kitras/Decoulos case made a large tract of land off Moshup Trail unbuildable.

“It’s all about access,” said Angela Cywinski, the Aquinnah professional assessor who reassessed the parcels affected by the case. The ruling specifically affected the 13 parcels in the Decoulos/Kitras case, but has implications overall for 215 parcels of vacant land, Ms. Cywinksi said.

The 2016 decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, named for property owners James Decoulos and his wife Maria Kitras, ruled that the parcels did not have an “easement by necessity” — an ability to build a road over neighboring lands in order to gain access to the public road. This made the Decoulos parcels landlocked, unbuildable, and decreased their value. These easements are granted when it is proven that the access was implied but left out of the deed in error. In the Decoulos case, the court decided that the access was not left out inadvertently because there were specific rights of access for creek fishing and the removal of peat that were written in when the land was partitioned in 1878.

Cywinski is doing the town’s first revaluation of property since the ruling. Vacant unbuildable land like the parcels in the Decoulos case are now worth half of what they were under the previous valuations. For example, a lot valued at $731,800 is now worth an estimated $365,900, Cywinski told The Times, reading from town records.

The valuations have not yet been certified by the state Department of Revenue. A meeting was scheduled before the state on Tuesday, Sept. 12, and the valuations could be finalized around Thanksgiving, she said.

As a result of the ruling, valuations of properties that are vacant, but have access and are considered buildable, have gone up by 40 percent.

“This is a big change, and it’s going to be looked at heavily,” Ms. Cywinski said.

On average, values will go up 2 percent for existing properties that have houses that are less than 2,400 square feet.