Court Deals With Yet Another Boundary Dispute Case

October 15, 2007 | Roger McEowen


The Iowa courts have dealt with several boundary dispute cases this year, and this is the most recent case to result in an opinion at the appellate level. Here, the defendant purchased a tract of land in 2002 that had most recently been used as a salvage yard. Prior to that, the tract housed a creamery for 100 years. The defendant fenced the property (due to insurance reasons) and began clearing the tract for a housing development. The plaintiffs purchased an adjacent tract to the north a bit more than a year later. There were two separate strips of land between the two parcels that were at issue in this case - a 23-foot strip and a 45-foot strip. The plaintiff’s property included a garage behind the house that faced south - toward the disputed strips of land. The defendant’s fence blocked all access to the plaintiff’s garage via the disputed strips, but the plaintiff still had access to the garage from the street in front of their house through their own property. However, the plaintiff sued on the basis that they had easement rights over the disputed strips of land. The trial court disagreed, and the appellate court affirmed.

The court held that the plaintiff did not establish title to the property by means of acquiescence. Under that theory, if adjoining landowners simply treat a particular property line (such as by means of a fence or usage) as the boundary, that line can become the boundary after 10 years. But, that wasn’t the case here. The court determined that there was simply a lack of evidence that any line other than the true boundary was established - mowing of the disputed strips by the prior owner did not “mark a line,” and the record did not show that the creamery ever consented to the prior owner’s establishment of a line other than the actual boundary. In addition, the creamery filed an affidavit of possession 1980 stating that it had maintained “complete actual and sole possession” of one of the strips since at least 1940. As such, the prior owner’s use of the disputed lane was merely permissive and could be revoked at any time.

  As for the 23-foot strip, a predecessor in title to the plaintiffs conveyed the 23-foot strip to the creamery with a reservation of right to use the strip as a driveway as long as the creamery used the strip as a driveway. So when usage of the strip as a driveway ended (when the salvage business began), so did the easement. There was also no easement by prescription because the plaintiff’s predecessor did not expend substantial amounts of labor or money in reliance on the defendant’s consent or oral agreement to use the lane. Instead, the court noted that the plaintiff’s predecessor was free-loading off of the adjacent property owner by using the lane to access their garage instead of spending the money to construct a driveway around the east and north side of their house to the public street on the west side of the property. Thus, an easement by prescription never arose.

Concerning the 45-foot strip, the court reasoned that the plaintiff had no right to use the strip because its usage was dependent on the plaintiff having rights to the 23-foot strip (the two strips were only connected by a very small tip that was too small for vehicular traffic). Since the plaintiff had no right to use the 23-foot strip, there was no right to use the 45-foot strip. Brown v. City, et al., No. 6-380/05-1488, 2006 Iowa App. LEXIS 1148 (Iowa Ct. App. Oct. 11, 2006).