Servient Tenement Owner’s Refusal to Authorize Necessary Improvements to Access Road Was Interference With Easement– Angela J. Okamura
Plaintiff Flora Dolnikov purchased undeveloped property in the Hollywood Hills. The property had an existing recorded easement running with the land for access by way of the adjacent parcel, or servient property. After obtaining permits from the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety (LADBS), Plaintiff began construction of two homes on her property.
During construction, Defendant bought the servient property, with full knowledge of the easement and Plaintiff’s development. Meanwhile, LADBS approved a grading plan for Plaintiff to improve the easement, which was then unsuitable for ingress and egress to her property. Plaintiff sought a permit to build a retaining wall, but Defendant complained to the LADBS and questioned Plaintiff’s right to do the work on his property. LADBS then revoked the approval to improve the easement.
After continuing efforts to resolve the dispute failed, Plaintiff filed suit seeking declaratory relief and damages. The trial court held that the grading and retaining walls were necessary for the expressly intended purpose of the easement; that their presence was not inconsistent with the nature of the easement; and that the improvements were in fact necessary to allow for ingress and egress. After the decision, LADBS issued a retaining wall permit, but then revoked it because Defendant refused to sign off or give the necessary permission.
The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s holding that Defendant’s refusal to sign the permit constituted interference with Plaintiff’s use and enjoyment of the easement. Easements, the court reasoned, should be interpreted liberally in favor of their holders. A grant of an easement gives the easement holder both express interests and secondary interests incident thereto—that is, “the right to do such things as are necessary for the full enjoyment of the easement itself.” The actions of the easement holder and the owner of the servient property must be reasonable.
Here, the proposed improvements were necessary for the easement to be functional and Defendant, in refusing to sign the permit which LADBS required, effectively halted Plaintiff’s construction. Defendant’s refusal to sign the permit impeded Plaintiff’s rights and rendered the easement utterly useless for the purpose for which it was intended. Moreover, allowing the improvements in no way imposed a burden on Defendant. Therefore, even though Defendant did not physically obstruct the easement, his actions nonetheless constituted unreasonable interference.
Dolnikov v. Ekizian (2013) 222 Cal.App.4th 419