What happens when one neighbor who shares an easement and driveway with another neighbor who is the property owner, attempts a land grab by encroaching onto the owner’s property?
Suppose for example, Nancy and Larry share a strip of land that provides driveway access to their respective properties. The strip is owned by Larry, but Nancy has the right to use the strip for the purposes of ingress, egress, and utilities, by a recorded easement.
What to do when Nancy has encroached onto Larry’s driveway by removing trees and clearing brush, and Nancy says she owns the land and not just a right to use the driveway. Larry has requested that Nancy agree to have a fence line constructed on the record boundary, which would not interfere with Nancy’s access. Nancy refuses to agree to Larry’s proposed fence construction.
- Does Nancy’s use of the recorded easement area establish Nancy’s ownership through adverse possession?
- May Larry fence his property consistent with the recorded easement?
Nancy asserts that she engaged in continuous adverse use of the recorded easement area for more than ten years. Assuming that the use had occurred for a period greater than 10 years, is very material to the claim of adverse possession of the recorded easement area. The nature of the use must also meet the hostility requirement of adverse possession.
An “easement” is a nonpossessory right to enter and use land in the possession of another and obligates the possessor not to interfere with the uses authorized by the easement. Easements are property rights or interests that give their holder limited rights to use but not possess the owner’s land. While easements may be extinguished through adverse use, the adverse use of the easement must be sufficiently hostile to the interest of the dominant estate’s interest as to put the dominant estate owner on notice.
Use that is consistent with the permissive use delineated in the easement grant is insufficient to give notice by the dominant estate owner. Use that is consistent with the permissive use of the easement grant may continue indefinitely without giving rise to any prescriptive right.
In other words, if Nancy uses the easement for activities that the easement allows, then this use is not adverse or hostile to Larry’s ownership.
The instrument that created the recorded easement of record in one case contains a provision relating to “maintenance of roadway.” Maintenance of the roadway is expressly within the scope of the easement grant. The Maintenance of Roadway provision stated, in pertinent part: “the roadway shall be maintained…as may be reasonable and necessary in order that all parties may enjoy full and free use of the parcels of real property affected hereby.”
Because the nature of the use of the Recorded Easement Area by Nancy was not so hostile in nature or inconsistent with the permissive use granted in the easement, the use cannot give rise to any prescriptive right or fee ownership.
Larry simply sought to fence his ownership to stop any further encroachments. The fencing did not hinder any use of the easement area consistent with the easement grant—the fence will only separate Larry’s ownership from Nancy’s ownership.
Even if Nancy had used the disputed portion of the Easement Area for a period of 10 years, her use of the Recorded Easement Area is not of a nature inconsistent with the permissive use granted in the recorded Easement and Road Maintenance Agreement.