Paper Streets - Titles 23 & 33

What are paper streets?  
Roads that were laid out in an abandoned subdivision plan but never actually became "accepted roads," (that is, they were never approved as town ways,) are known as paper streets.  The law on these phantom roads is confusing because it's divided between road law (Title 23) and real estate law (Title 33).  As with discontinued town or county ways, the current status of such roads may depend on certain critical dates - in this case, the date on which it was recorded in a subdivision plan.  The laws determining the fate of these roads changed as of September 29, 1987, so it's critical to determine whether the subdivision plan was recorded before or after that date.
The road's current status also may depend on whether anyone actually built it and used it as a road, even for private access, within a certain amount of time after the plan was recorded.  If so, private access rights may remain.  If not, the land reverts to the abutting property owners and all access rights are extinguished.  There are also certain procedures for vacating proposed, unaccepted ways.
These roads are a bit out of the realm of Maine ROADWays; however, I do occasionally get questions about them, so I'm including the relevant statutes I know of here in one place.

Title 23 §3027. Vacation of proposed town ways in land subdivision; revocation of dedication
1. Vacation of ways.  Where proposed town ways have been described in a recorded subdivision plan and lots have been sold with reference to the plan, the municipal officers, after notice to the municipal planning board or office, may, on their own initiative, on petition of the abutting property owners or on petition of any person claiming a property interest in the proposed way, vacate in whole or in part proposed ways that have not been accepted. The municipal officers shall give best practicable notice, as defined in section 3026, subsection 2, of the proposed vacation to owners of lots on the recorded subdivision plan and their mortgagees of record. The notice shall conform in substance to the following form:
NOTICE
(The municipal officers of) (A petition has been filed with the municipal officers of)_____________________ (Name of Town or City)__________________ (propose to) (to vacate) the following (ways) (way) shown upon a subdivision plan (named) (dated) (and) recorded in the_________________________County Registry of Deeds, Book of Plans, Volume________, Page________.
(Herein list or describe ways to be vacated)
If the municipal officers enter an order vacating (these ways) (this way) any person claiming an interest in (these ways) (this way) (adverse to the claims of the petitioners) must, within one (1) year of the recording of the order, file a written claim thereof under oath in the_________________ County Registry of Deeds and must, within one hundred eighty (180) days of the filing of the claim, commence an action in the Superior Court in ___________________ County in accordance with the Revised Statutes Title 23, section 3027-A.
The municipal officers shall file an order of vacation with the municipal clerk that specifies the location of the way, the names of owners of lots on the recorded subdivision plan and the amount of damages, if any, determined by the municipal officers to be paid to each lot owner or other person having an interest in the way. Damages and reasonable costs as determined by the municipal officers shall be paid by the petitioners, if any.
[ 1987, c. 385, §1 (AMD) .]
2. Revocation of dedication.  A dedication of property or interest therein to the municipality described in a recorded subdivision plot plan may not be revoked or vacated by the dedicator unless no lot has been sold with reference to the plan, and unless an amended subdivision plan has been approved by the municipal subdivision review authority and recorded in the appropriate registry of deeds.
[ 1981, c. 683, §2 (NEW) .]
SECTION HISTORY
1975, c. 711, §8 (NEW). 1981, c. 683, §2 (RPR). 1987, c. 385, §1 (AMD).

§3027-A. Recording of vacation orders; rights of action; prior orders
1. Recording of vacation order.  A copy of the order of vacation by the municipal officers entered under section 3027 shall be recorded in the registry of deeds where the plan of subdivision is recorded and shall contain an alphabetical listing of the names of the subdivision lot owners and their mortgagees of record whose interests may be affected by the order. The register of deeds shall make a cross-reference to the order of vacation upon or attached to the face of the subdivision plan. The register of deeds shall also index the order under the names of the lot owners whose names appear in the body of the order. Any order of vacation entered prior to the effective date of this section may be recorded by the municipal officers in the same manner and with the same effect set forth in this section.
[ 1981, c. 683, §3 (NEW) .]
2. Rights of action.  All persons are forever barred from maintaining any action at law or in equity to establish, recover, confirm or otherwise enforce any right claimed to or in a proposed or described vacated way by reason of the ownership by the claimant or by a predecessor in title of a lot or parcel of land shown on a recorded subdivision plan, unless, within one year of the date of recordation of the order of vacation, the claimant files in the registry of deeds where the subdivision plan is recorded a statement under oath specifying the nature, basis and extent of the claimed interest in the way. The claim is forever barred unless, within 180 days after the recording of the statement, the claimant or any other person acting on behalf of the claimant commences an action in equity under Title 14, chapter 723, to establish the rights asserted to or in the way. These limitation periods are not tolled or interrupted by any disability, minority, lack of knowledge or absence from this State of any claimant. Upon the trial of an action, the court shall grant judgment for the claimant only if it finds that the claimant has acquired an interest in the proposed way and that the deprivation of rights in the proposed way unreasonably limits access from a public way, a public body of water or common land or facility to the land of the claimant shown on the recorded subdivision plan. Any judgment rendered by the court in the action may, in the discretion of the court, grant the claimant reasonable damages instead of establishment of the claimant's rights.
[ RR 2013, c. 2, §34 (COR) .]
3. Prior orders.  A person claiming an interest in a proposed unaccepted way vacated under section 3027 prior to the effective date of this section may cause an attested copy of that order to be recorded in the registry of deeds where the subdivision plan describing or showing the way is recorded. That person shall append to the order to be recorded an alphabetical listing of the names of the current subdivision lot owners and their mortgagees of record whose interest in the way may be affected by the order. The register of deeds shall also index the order under the names of the lot owners appearing in the appendix.
Within 20 days of the recording of a prior order, the person causing the order to be recorded shall give notice of the person's claim to all current owners of lots on the subdivision plan and their mortgagees of record by mailing by the United States Postal Service, postage prepaid, a notice informing them of the person's claim and advising them that, to preserve any claim adverse to the person's, they must file a claim and commence an action as required by subsection 2. The notice must conform in substance to the following form:
NOTICE
On ______________ , 19___, the municipal officers of _________________ (Name of Town or City) entered an order vacating the following (ways) (way) shown upon a subdivision plan (named) (dated) (and) recorded in the _________________ Registry of Deeds Book of Plans, Volume______, Page _____.
(Herein list vacated ways)
The undersigned claims to own the (ways) (way) described above. A copy of the order of the municipal officers was recorded in the Registry of Deeds on ____________, 19___, and any person claiming an interest in (these ways) (this way) adverse to the claims of the undersigned must, within one (1) year of the date of the recording of the above order, file a written claim under oath in the Registry of Deeds and must, within one hundred eighty (180) days thereafter, commence an action in the Superior Court in ______________ County in accordance with the Revised Statutes, Title 23, section 3027-A.
[ RR 2015, c. 1, §24 (COR) .]
4. Applicability.  This section applies to ways described or shown in recorded subdivision plans proposed before and after the effective date of this section.
[ 1981, c. 683, §3 (NEW) .]
SECTION HISTORY
1981, c. 683, §3 (NEW). RR 2013, c. 2, §34 (COR). RR 2015, c. 1, §24 (COR).

§3031. Public and private rights in proposed, unaccepted ways in subdivisions
1. Public rights.  From the date of recording of a subdivision plan in the registry of deeds, the public acquires rights of incipient dedication to public use of the ways laid out on the plan. If a proposed way laid out in the plan is not accepted by the municipality within 20 years from the date of recording of the plan, the public rights in that way terminate.
[ 1987, c. 385, §2 (NEW) .]
2. Private rights.  A person acquiring title to land shown on a subdivision plan recorded in the registry of deeds acquires a private right-of-way over the ways laid out in the plan. If a proposed, unaccepted way is not constructed within 20 years from the date of recording of the plan, and if the private rights created by the recording of the plan are not constructed and utilized as private rights within that 20-year period, the private rights-of-way in that way terminate.
Unless title has been reserved pursuant to Title 33, section 469-A, when the private rights established by this subsection are terminated as provided in this subsection or by order of vacation by the municipality, the title of the fee interest in the proposed, unaccepted way for which the private rights-of-way have terminated passes to the abutting property owners to the centerline of the way.
[ 1987, c. 385, §2 (NEW) .]
3. Shorter duration of public and private rights; rights of lesser extent.  Notwithstanding subsections 1 and 2, the developer or other person recording a subdivision plan in the registry of deeds may set a shorter duration for the public and private rights established in subsections 1 and 2 than the period provided in those subsections. The developer or other person recording the subdivision plan shall cause the shorter duration to be noted on the face of the subdivision plan.
Pursuant to a subdivision review under Title 30-A, chapter 187, subchapter IV, the municipal reviewing authority may set a shorter duration for the public and private rights established in subsections 1 and 2 than the period provided in those subsections. The municipal reviewing authority shall cause the shorter duration to be noted on the face of the subdivision plan.
Nothing in this section may be construed to prohibit the developer or other person recording a subdivision plan in the registry of deeds from granting rights of lesser extent than those established in subsections 1 and 2. If rights of lesser extent are granted, the person recording the subdivision plan shall cause the extent of those rights to be described on the face of the subdivision plan and in any conveyance of land shown on the plan.
[ 1995, c. 462, Pt. B, §4 (AMD) .]
4. Fee interest reserved by owner of subdivision.  If the owner of land for which a subdivision is proposed reserves the fee interest in any ways proposed on the subdivision plan, the owner shall place a statement of this reservation in all conveyances by him of land in the subdivision.
[ 1987, c. 385, §2 (NEW) .]
SECTION HISTORY
1987, c. 385, §2 (NEW). 1995, c. 462, §B4 (AMD).

§3032. Proposed, unaccepted ways deemed vacated
1. Deemed vacation.
[ 1997, c. 386, §1 (RP) .]
1-A. Deemed vacation.  A proposed, unaccepted way or portion of a proposed, unaccepted way laid out on a subdivision plan recorded in the registry of deeds prior to September 29, 1987 is deemed to have been subject to an order of vacation under section 3027 if, by the later of 15 years after the date of the recording of the subdivision plan laying out the way or portion of the way or September 29, 1997, both of the following conditions have been met:
A. The way or portion of the way has not been constructed or used as a way; and [1997, c. 386, §2 (NEW).]
B. The way or portion of the way has not been accepted as a town, county or state way or highway or as a public, utility or recreational easement. [1997, c. 386, §2 (NEW).]
A way or portion of a way considered vacated under this subsection is subject to section 3033.
[ 1997, c. 386, §2 (NEW) .]
2. Extensions.  The municipal officers of the affected municipality may except a proposed, unaccepted way or portion of a proposed, unaccepted way described in subsection 1-A from the operation of the time limitations of that subsection by filing, in the registry of deeds where the subdivision plan is recorded, a notice stating that the way or portion of the way is excepted from the operation of subsection 1-A for a period of 20 years from the filing of the notice. To be effective, this exception must be filed prior to the expiration of the time limitations of subsection 1-A. An extension accomplished under this subsection may be extended by the municipal officers for a subsequent 20-year period by the filing of a new notice within the preceding 20-year extension period.
[ 1997, c. 683, Pt. B, §10 (AMD); 1997, c. 683, Pt. B, §11 (AFF) .]
SECTION HISTORY
1987, c. 385, §2 (NEW). 1997, c. 386, §§1,2 (AMD). 1997, c. 683, §B10 (AMD). 1997, c. 683, §B11 (AFF).

§3033. Rights of action concerning ways deemed vacated
1. Notice by person claiming ownership.  Any person claiming to own a proposed, unaccepted way or portion of a proposed, unaccepted way deemed vacated under section 3032 may record, in the registry of deeds where the subdivision plan, to which the notice set forth in this subsection pertains, is recorded, a conformed copy of the notice set forth in this subsection, with an alphabetical listing of the names of the current record owners of lots on the subdivision plan to which the notice pertains and their mortgagees of record. The person shall give notice of his claim to these current record owners and their mortgagees of record. Within 20 days of recording of the notice, the person shall give this notice by mailing, by the United States postal service, postage prepaid, to the current record owners and mortgagees, a copy of the notice set forth below:
NOTICE
By virtue of the Maine Revised Statutes, Title 23, section 3032, the following proposed, unaccepted ways or portions of proposed, unaccepted ways were deemed by law to have been vacated by the municipal officers of (name of town or city) ________________ . The ways or portions of ways so vacated are shown on a plan (named) (dated) (and) recorded in the ______________ County Registry of Deeds, Book of Plans, Volume ________ , Page ______ , (Folio #) and are described as follows:
(Herein list vacated ways or portions of ways)
The undersigned claims to own the (way or ways) (portion of way or ways) described above. Any person claiming an interest in (this way or these ways) (a portion of this way or these ways) adverse to the claim of the undersigned, within one year from the date of recording of a copy of this notice in the registry of deeds, must file a written claim, under oath, in the same registry and, within 180 days thereafter, must commence an action in Superior Court in _______________ County in accordance with the Maine Revised Statutes, Title 23, section 3033. A copy of this notice was recorded in the registry of deeds on _____________ , 19___ .
[ 1987, c. 385, §2 (NEW) .]
2. Rights of action by persons receiving notice.  All persons receiving a notice under subsection 1, who claim any private right of any kind in the way or portion of a way to which the notice pertains, are forever barred from maintaining any action at law or in equity to establish, recover, confirm or otherwise enforce any right claimed to or in the way or portion of a way by reason of the ownership by the person, or by a predecessor in title, of a lot or parcel of land shown on the recorded subdivision plan to which the notice pertains, unless, within one year from the date of recording of the notice, the person files in the registry of deed where the pertinent subdivision plan is recorded a statement, under oath, specifying the nature, basis and extent of the claimed interest in the way or portion of a way. The claim is forever barred unless, within 180 days of the recording of the statement, the claimant, or a person acting on his behalf, commences an action in equity under Title 14, chapter 723, to establish the rights asserted to or in the way or portion of a way.
The limitation periods in this section are not tolled or interrupted by any disability, minority, lack of knowledge or absence from this State by the claimant.
[ 1987, c. 385, §2 (NEW) .]
3. Trial of an action.  Upon trial of an action initiated under subsection 2, the court shall grant judgment for the claimant only if it finds that:
A. The claimant has acquired an interest in the way or portion of a way; and [1987, c. 385, §2 (NEW).]
B. The deprivation of the claimant's rights in the way or portion of the way unreasonably limits the claimant's access from his land shown on the recorded subdivision plan to:
(1) A public way;
(2) A public body of water; or
(3) Common land or a common facility within the subdivision. [1987, c. 385, §2 (NEW).]
Any judgment rendered by the court in an action under subsection 2, in the discretion of the court, may grant the claimant reasonable damages instead of establishment of the claimant's rights, except that under no circumstances shall a municipality be liable for any damages granted by any judgment rendered by the court under subsection 2.
[ 1987, c. 385, §2 (NEW) .]
SECTION HISTORY
1987, c. 385, §2 (NEW).

Title 33 §469-A. Title to proposed, unaccepted ways

1. Reservation of title.  Any conveyance made before September 29, 1987 that conveyed land abutting upon a proposed, unaccepted way laid out on a subdivision plan recorded in the registry of deeds is deemed to have conveyed all of the grantor's interest in the portion of the way that abuts the land conveyed, unless the grantor expressly reserved the grantor's title to the way by a specific reference to this reservation in the conveyance of the land.
[ 2011, c. 312, §1 (AMD) .]
2. Intent to reserve.  Any grantor who, before September 29, 1987, conveyed land abutting a proposed, unaccepted way laid out on a subdivision plan recorded in the registry of deeds with the intent to reserve title to the way, but who did not expressly reserve title to the way as required in subsection 1, or any person who claims title to the way by, through or under the grantor, may preserve the grantor's claim by recording the notice set forth in subsection 3, in the registry of deeds where the pertinent subdivision plan is recorded, within 2 years after September 29, 1987.
[ 2011, c. 312, §1 (AMD) .]
3. Notice.  The notice required under subsection 2 shall contain:
A. An intelligible description of the way or portion of a way in which title is being claimed; [1987, c. 385, §4 (NEW).]
B. The name and address of the person on whose behalf the title is being claimed; [1987, c. 385, §4 (NEW).]
C. A description, including specific reference, by date of recording and the volume and page numbers, to that conveyance, of the recorded instrument in which the person claims title to the way or portion of the way which was intended to be reserved; and [1987, c. 385, §4 (NEW).]
D. A duly verified oath taken by the person claiming title before a person authorized to administer oaths. [1987, c. 385, §4 (NEW).]
[ 1987, c. 385, §4 (NEW) .]
4. Register's duties.  The register of deeds shall enter upon the margin of the recorded conveyance, described in the notice under subsection 3, paragraph C, the volume and page numbers where the notice is recorded.
The register of deeds may charge the same fee for recording the notice that is charged for recording deeds.
[ 1987, c. 385, §4 (NEW) .]
5. Who may present notice for recording.  The notice required under subsection 2 may be presented for recording by the person claiming title or a person acting on his behalf. Disability or lack of knowledge by the person claiming title shall not extend the time limitations related to the recording of the notice.
[ 1987, c. 385, §4 (NEW) .]
6. Lack of reservation.  Any person owning land in this State abutting a proposed, unaccepted way or portion of a proposed, unaccepted way, whose predecessors in title had not reserved title in the way under subsection 1 or 2, is deemed to own to the center line of the way or portion of the way, except for a proposed, unaccepted way under subsection 6-A.
[ 2011, c. 312, §2 (AMD) .]
6-A. Bounded by other property.   A person owning land in a subdivision abutting a proposed, unaccepted way or portion of a proposed, unaccepted way owns the entire width of the portion of the way that abuts the person's land if:
A. The proposed, unaccepted way or portion of the proposed, unaccepted way is part of the subdivision and is laid out on the subdivision plan recorded in the registry of deeds; [2011, c. 312, §3 (NEW).]
B. The person's predecessors in title had not reserved title in the proposed, unaccepted way or portion of the proposed, unaccepted way under subsection 1 or 2; and [2011, c. 312, §3 (NEW).]
C. The proposed, unaccepted way or portion of the proposed, unaccepted way is bounded on the opposite side by land that is not included in the subdivision. [2011, c. 312, §3 (NEW).]
If the land on the opposite side of a proposed, unaccepted way or a portion of a proposed, unaccepted way under this subsection extends beyond the person's land, then the person owns the entire width of that portion of the extension of the proposed, unaccepted way that is not bounded by another owner's land on the person's side of the way.
[ 2011, c. 312, §3 (NEW) .]
7. Action to establish title.  In any action concerning title to a proposed, unaccepted way, the burden of proof concerning the grantor's intent to reserve title shall be on the grantor or those claiming title by, through or under the grantor.
[ 1987, c. 385, §4 (NEW) .]
8. Construction of laws.  Nothing contained in this section may be construed to extend the period for the bringing of an action or for the doing of any other required act under any statute of limitations.
This section shall be liberally construed to affect the legislative purpose of clarifying the title to land underlying proposed, unaccepted ways by eliminating the possibility of ancient claims.
[ 1987, c. 385, §4 (NEW) .]
SECTION HISTORY
1987, c. 385, §4 (NEW). 2011, c. 312, §§1-3 (AMD)

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