Ag Access Easement Over Developed Lots Recognized

January 31, 2011 | Erin Herbold

Development agricultural property around the Des Moines metro area provided the background for this case in which the Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed a Dallas County trial court’s ruling recognizing an easement for access to farmland across developed lots. The plaintiffs owned and farmed the ag property adjacent to the existing housing development.  They sued seeking judicial recognition of their right to access a farm field through the driveways of the lots. The defendant lot owners countersued, asking the court for damages caused by the farmer crossing their lots. 

The current dispute began when the housing development was built in the 1970’s. The land to be developed and the land north of it were originally owned by the same party. The owner began selling off lots to a developer and he and the developer negotiated easements to provide water to the development. The developer and owner agreed to a “water access” through the driveways of two of the lots to access the water facilities. The plaintiffs, who had subsequently purchased the northern parcel in 1978, used the route to access the farm. The lots were sold and the access easement was reflected in the recorded plat map. Subsequently, the lots changed hands and the defendants discovered, almost immediately, that the plaintiffs were using their driveways to access the farm. They had no other way to access the field – their ingress and egress had been cut-off by the sale and development of the adjacent property.

In spite of the fact that the plaintiff had been using the currently-existing driveways to access their field for over 20 years, the defendants, through their attorney, sent the plaintiff a letter “informing” the plaintiff that there was no recorded easement permitting them to use their driveways.  That’s a largely irrelevant point.  While the plaintiffs attempted to gain permission from the county to use another route, they were rebuffed because of “visibility issues,” and the trial court ruled that the plaintiff had established both an easement by implication and an easement of necessity and was entitled to access the farm through the driveways. On appeal, the defendants argued that the plaintiffs failed to prove the access easement and that such an easement would interfere with their property rights, entitling them to damages. The appellate court disagreed.Flinn v. Bosch, et al., No. 0-631/09-1909, 2011 Iowa App. LEXIS 36 (Iowa Ct. App. Jan 20, 2011).