Who really owns the alley?

The land in question, consisting of the lots along West Brookline and West Canton Streets and the passageway between them, can be thought of as having two distinct portions defined by the original boundary [Boundary] between the City and the Boston Water Power Company [BWP].  The land south of the Boundary was created and owned by the City and the land north of the Boundary was created and owned by BWP.  The following law was first enacted in 1971.   It codified what was already a general principle that under the common law rule of construction the mention of a way as a boundary in a conveyance of land was presumed to mean to the middle of the way if the grantor owned the way. So although none of us are assessed for the land in the alley, we are considered to own it to the mid-point.


Derelict Fee Statute: General Law 183, Section 58. Every instrument passing title to real estate abutting a way, whether public or private, watercourse, wall, fence or other similar linear monument, shall be construed to include any fee interest of the grantor in such way, watercourse or monument, unless (a) the grantor retains other real estate abutting such way, watercourse or monument, in which case, (i) if the retained real estate is on the same side, the division line between the land granted and the land retained shall be continued into such way, watercourse or monument as far as the grantor owns, or (ii) if the retained real estate is on the other side of such way, watercourse or monument between the division lines extended, the title conveyed shall be to the center line of such way, watercourse or monument as far as the grantor owns, or (b) the instrument evidences a different intent by an express exception or reservation and not alone by bounding by a side line.


If the City thinks it’s private, how is it that the alley is used for some City services?

The City designates alleys as “Public,” “Private, open to public travel” or “private.” Even though the City currently believes this alley is “private” the city requires that it remain accessible to both public and private vehicles. Essentially, we are in the position of having all the responsibilities of private ownership with none of the rights. However, public vehicles, such as police, EMS, trash and an occasional snow plow provide basic city services in the alley.  The City also maintains the street lights in the alley.

In November 2015 the designation of the alley was changed to “private, open to public travel,” enabling us to access the Sewer Betterment Policy.

What’s this I hear about groundwater?

Groundwater is the water below the surface that protects the pilings our homes are built on. Currently our groundwater level are among the lowest in the neighborhood.  Drainage is a major problem in the alley.  In the absence of a proper drainage system, water accumulates on the surface creating puddles, mud and ice sheets in the winter.  Proper drainage would direct water so that it can be absorbed into the soil to help preserve appropriate groundwater levels.  This is critically important to the structural integrity of our homes. alley puddle Read more about this issue here.