Ownership Dispute Involves Adverse Possession and Easement by Necessity Claims
- by Roger McEowen
In yet another property ownership dispute case, the court discusses what it takes to obtain ownership to property either by adverse possession or by an easement by prescription. Here, the parties own separate tracts of real estate on opposite sides of another tract to which they both claimed ownership rights. The plaintiffs claimed ownership based on representations made to them, payment of property taxes and use of the tract. The defendants claimed ownership based on representations, their use and maintenance of the property, and improvements made to the property. In 2003, the plaintiffs attempted to use the driveway on the disputed tract to construct a pole barn on the land-locked portion of their property, but the defendants objected. The plaintiffs then obtained a quit-claim deed to the tract from a third party, and sued to quiet title in the parcel in themselves. The trial court ruled that the defendant had established ownership via adverse possession and that the plaintiffs did not have an easement over the tract to access their landlocked parcel.
The appellate court affirmed. The court noted that the defendant’s conduct had clearly indicated ownership and satisfied the elements of adverse possession for the statutory 10-year timeframe (possession that is hostile, actual, open, exclusive and continuous). They had a good faith belief of ownership since 1953, used the driveway to access their property, maintained the tract and made valuable improvements. On the other hand, the plaintiff’s belief of ownership, the court determined, was not reasonable. They were familiar with the plat to their property, which did not include the parcel in question, the defendants had never given access, denied them an easement, and the quit claim deed did not include the driveway to the property. In addition, the court held that payment of property taxes on a parcel does not control the issue of whether title can be obtained via adverse possession. Similarly, the court ruled that the plaintiffs had not acquired an easement by necessity. There was no unity of ownership with the tract they owned, and the plaintiffs have access to their property by foot or tractor. Kroeze v. Scott, No. 8-084/07-0995, 2008 Iowa App. LEXIS 168 (Iowa Ct. App. Mar. 14, 2008).