Abutter Details

The owner of a property that is adjoining to another property is called an abutter. The two properties must share a boundary and be in close proximity. Abutting is the adjective used when an abutter describes their property or house as bordering another. For legal cases, the court will often define an abutter as the person who holds the property's record title, excluding tenants, associations, and partial owners.

While American jurisdictions such as New Hampshire, Nova Scotia, and Massachusetts use abutter as a legal term, other areas can define the same person differently. In Virginia, you may hear the term adjacent landowner, and in California, they sometimes use adjoining landowner. Most governments in the United States also have codes that detail abutter rights.

Abutter rights prevent instances where someone develops or makes renovations on the adjourning property that infringes certain rights. Generally, any alterations that affect an abutting property can be considered an infringement. Examples of scenarios that violate an abutters rights include:

  • Alterations completely block specific views
  • Access to a highway is restricted
  • An abutter doesn't get an opportunity to dispute developments in a public hearing

Real-World Example of Abutter

An abutter's rights include the rights of view, access, light, and air. However, the specifics of laws regarding abutter rights will vary by jurisdiction. A real-world example of abutters rights discussed in court is the 1994 case of Thomas H. Wilson vs. The People ex rel. Department of Transporation (DOT). Wilson was seeking severance damage for a freeway constructed by DOT that included a sound wall blocking northbound travelers' view of his business.

Although the law indicates an abutter has the right to preserve a highway view to attract business, this right does not extend to freeways. Additionally, Wilson's family had sold the portion of his property title to the state in 1954, giving up his abutters right. In other words, he no longer had property abutting the main thoroughfare or public road.

Wilson did not win his case, and his appeals were also denied. There are cases, however, like the 1975 Mehl v. People ex rel. Department of Public Works, where Mehl did not relinquish his abutter rights and did receive his compensation.

Significance of Abutter

Concerns of an abutter can receive special attention in land use regulations. It is essential to understand what your rights are as an abutter. For instance, when concerning new developments in properties bordering you, you may have additional rights compared to non-abutters.

If a developer wants to do construction on the abutting property, they must notify all abutters of their proposal and invite them to a public hearing. Since an abutter is most likely to experience the consequences of such developments, they will generally have the rights to be heard at the hearing without needing to request it.

Abutter vs. Adverse Possessor

An abutter is someone who owns property bordering another property. In contrast, an adverse possessor is someone who acquires a valid title of land owned by their neighbor through a doctrine called adverse possession. Adverse possessions can occur as a dispute among abutters.

An adverse possessor can engage in an adverse possession claim in multiple scenarios. A typical example is when an abutter wrongly places a fence away from the boundary line. Over time the property owners act as if the fence is the boundary line or new owners believe it is the boundary line. Another example is when an abutter enlarges their driveway, and it encroaches onto the neighboring property, thus allowing them to claim the driveway portion as their property.