Easements & Boundary Disputes Attorney in Santa Ana, California
Poet Robert Frost wrote that “Good fences make good neighbors.” It is often where that fence is placed that might cause a feud between them.
Legal disputes over property boundaries and easements are common, and laws regarding them are complex. Whether you are having a property line dispute with a neighbor or an easement issue with a local governmental entity, you should seek advice from an attorney knowledgeable about boundary and easement disputes.
At Martinez Law Office, I have helped clients for more than 40 years resolve disputes about what is their property and what is someone else’s.
Easements vs. Boundaries in California
An easement is the right for one person to use property that belongs to someone else. The easement holder cannot occupy the property but may use it, for example, to access their property. They are also required to maintain the property. The owner of the property may also continue to use the easement and cannot obstruct the holder from using it.
There are several types of easements in California:
Utility Easement — This is provided to a utility to run electrical, water, gas, or other lines through the owner’s property. The owner can continue to use or build on the property so long as activities do not interfere with the operation of the utility lines.
Private Easement — A property owner can sell an easement through their land to others who want to run something through the property, often to save money. For example, someone building a house may purchase a private easement to run their sewer line through because going through that property may be the shortest distance.
Easement by Necessity — At times, someone needs to cross property owned by someone else to get to their own property. For example, someone buys a piece of land in the middle of parcels owned by others. They would be entitled to an easement by necessity to get to their property.
Prescriptive Easement — If someone uses another person’s property over time, “open and continuously,” they may acquire a prescriptive easement. If more than one person uses the property to access their own property, they may all acquire a prescriptive easement over time. The owner of the easement property can avoid a prescriptive easement issue down the road by having a signed agreement with those using the easement for limited, revocable use.
Equitable Easement - This type of easement is imposed on a landowner in favor of an adjacent landowner by a court after balancing the interests of the parties. It is crafted to the situation that gives rise to the dispute. Sometimes the equitable easement order requires payment for the use of the easement by the dominant estate to the subservient estate.
View Easement - With property along the coast or upon hills or in the mountains, view easements are common. They preserve the value of up-hill or coastal property by protecting the views from those properties of the ocean, a lake, a mountain, a valley, a river or some other expansive view. Views of properties usually add significant premium value to a property and these easements prevent downhill property owners from erecting structures or growing trees above a certain height that would obstruct the view of the uphill property.
Sound Easement - Where property is near an industrial area or an airport or a freeway or super highway, a municipality or an adjacent owner can obtain a sound easement that allows the adjacent owner or municipality or airport to exceed the allowable noise levels for the area. This type of easement is usually accompanied by efforts to mitigate the sound (i.e., a sound wall, or improvements to the subservient estate such as air conditioning and double or triple pane windows and insulation).
Boundaries are where two property lines meet. The law relies on the legal description of property in a deed, generated by a survey, to determine boundaries between properties.
California law assumes that a fence constructed on a boundary benefits both property owners; therefore, both are responsible for the care and maintenance of the fence. One neighbor choosing to build a fence is required to provide details about the need for and design and placement of the fence, and must notify the adjacent property owners at least 30 days prior to beginning construction.
Common Easement Disputes
An easement holder may allege that the use of the easement by someone else constitutes trespassing; however, while the holder has the limited right to use the land, they do not own the land. As such, trespassing could only be alleged by the property owner, not the easement holder.
The easement holder could allege interference if, for example, the property owner constructed a locked gate across the easement, interfering with the holder’s access to it. Interference by the landowner is a form of trespass against the easement holder.
Easements affected by zoning regulations may also be the subject of dispute by property owners and government. For example, the city could zone a conservation space on an owner’s property which would prohibit the property owner from building on the site.
Common Boundary Disputes
Fence disputes between property owners are common, especially when one neighbor constructs one to annoy the other. In California, if a neighbor constructs a fence 10 feet high or taller, you may be able to file a private nuisance suit against them.
Property line disputes arise when owners on either side disagree about the location of the property line. Disputes might also arise when one neighbor files an adverse possession case against the other, alleging that their continued maintenance of the property over a period of time gives them an interest in the property.
In California, tree trimming is often the basis for a dispute. While the owner of a property can trim the branches of a neighbor’s tree which protrude over the boundary, they may not do anything that will harm or kill the tree.
Of course, parties may use California courts to resolve disputes. If the monetary value of a claim is less than $10,000 for individuals or $5,000 for businesses, a case may be filed in small claims court. If the value exceeds those thresholds, the case should be filed with the superior court.
Disputes may also be resolved without going to court. Neighbors might agree to have a survey done to confirm the location of boundaries. Hiring an easement and boundary attorney to attempt to negotiate a resolution of the dispute could offer an opportunity to avoid filing a lawsuit.
EASEMENTS & BOUNDARY DISPUTES ATTORNEY SERVING SANTA ANA, CA
California laws regarding easements, boundaries, zoning, eminent domain, and adverse possession are complex. If you are unable to reach an agreement with the other party on your own, retain the counsel of an experienced attorney. At Martinez Law Office, I help clients in Santa Ana, Orange County, and throughout Southern California resolve easement and property disputes. Call my office today to schedule a consultation.