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Scope of Easement Limited to Historical Use

Scope of Easement Limited to Historical Use – M. Henry Walker

This case involved the determination of the scope of an easement over property in Kings Beach, Lake Tahoe. Plaintiffs Rye, owners of the property (i.e., the “servient tenement”), sued defendant Tahoe Truckee Sierra Disposal Company to prevent expansion of the easement historically used for parking garbage trucks and storage. The dispute centered on the interpretation of a 1981 grant of easement from plaintiff Rye’s predecessor in title to Tahoe Truckee and a separate 99 year lease transaction in 1982.

The 1981 grant of easement provided for “an easement for ingress, egress, parking, storage, utilities over a portion of Parcel One”. While the exact area to be used by Tahoe Truckee was not defined in the 1981 grant, evidence at trial established that Tahoe Truckee limited its use to a small, paved portion of the easement area (and a nearby smaller unpaved portion). In 2004, Tahoe Truckee sought to expand their use of the easement to the entire area identified in the 1981 grant of easement.

Meanwhile, the 1982 Lease provided for a 99 year lease to Tahoe Truckee of the same property as identified in the 1981 grant of easement to Tahoe Truckee. The circumstances surrounding the execution of the lease agreement, and even whether that document was ever executed by the proper parties, were “murky” according to the trial court. Moreover, the parties themselves never performed according to the 1982 lease agreement (which, among other things, required Tahoe Truckee to pay taxes.)

Tahoe Truckee argued that the both the 1981 easement and the 1982 lease allowed it to use the entire encumbered property as identified in those agreements. Rye countered that the use should be limited to the historic use. The trial court, looking askance at the lease agreement, found that even if the lease was ever fully executed, it was nonetheless abandoned by 22 years of non-use. The easement, the court found, was never intended to allow the use of the entire property and limited the use of the easement to its historic use. The Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s ruling, holding that the word “over” in the grant of easement indicated the intent to allow only a portion of the encumbered property to be used. The Court also noted that, were it to adopt Tahoe Truckee’s position, Rye would be effectively barred from using his own property whatsoever, a result certainly not intended by the parties.

Rye v. Tahoe Truckee Sierra Disposal Company, Inc. (2013) 222 Cal.App.4th 84, review filed (Jan. 27, 2014), opinion modified on denial of reh’g, (Cal. Ct. App., Jan. 10, 2014, C067970) 2014 WL 98652.