A recent decision by the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel for the 1st Circuit held that, in certain circumstances, homestead protection applies to adjoining parcels with a common owner.  In its decision the court confirmed that when a homeowner uses the surrounding land in connection with the principal residence, the owner is entitled to homestead protection on those parcels.

Judge Bruce A. Harwood stated “

[w]hen a debtor actually occupies property and uses the surrounding land in connection with his principal residence, his past or future intention regarding the property is not controlling.”  In its analysis, the court focused on the owner’s actual use of the adjacent parcels at the time the declaration of homestead was recorded.  In the case at hand, the homeowner testified that he and his family used the abutting lots surrounding the house for sledding, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, hiking, snowboarding, riding ATVs, storing boats during the winter, and gathering firewood.  In coming to its decision, the court cited similar Bankruptcy Court cases where homestead protection was extended when the homeowner landscaped a portion of the land and constructed a shed and garden on the adjacent parcels.

The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel followed the lead of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in construing the Homestead exemption liberally in favor of homeowners.

This case reinforces just how valuable a declaration of homestead can be when a homeowner becomes a debtor.

If your home is not protected under the Massachusetts Homestead Act, it is important to contact a knowledgeable real estate attorney to ensure your residence, and adjacent parcels of land, are protected from creditors.

– Sean Hurley