Court Determines Road Ownership

September 3, 2007 | Erin Herbold

Here, the property owners appealed a district court decision finding that the county held a prescriptive easement across their property.  An easement by prescription is similar to the concept of adverse possession.  In Iowa,  if an individual possesses someone else’s land in an open and notorious fashion with an intent to take it away from them, such person (known as an adverse possessor) becomes the true property owner after ten years. 

The property owners sought to quiet title to a road that passed through their property -they wanted the court to establish title only in their names and “quiet” any challenges or claims against the property.  The road in question had been used by the public for over 75 years. The county maintained the road and even named it in the 1990’s.  The road traveled through both the plaintiff’s and defendant’s tracts.  In 1998, the plaintiffs acquired the property, with the understanding that the public used the road.  The plaintiffs even applied to the county for permits to do work affecting the road.  When the plaintiffs sued in 2004 to quiet title, their neighbors and the county responded, claiming that even if the county didn’t own the road, they had a prescriptive easement for its use, and that the county was the holder of a prescriptive easement for the road’s use.  Further, the court held that the roadway included the areas of the roadway surface and five feet on each side of the roadway, which the county had the right to maintain. 

On appeal, the court noted that the evidence established that the road had been used by the public for at least ten years.  The court also noted that the county had maintained and improved the road (and the plaintiffs knew this), and that the county’s use was obvious to the public based on the testimony of residents in the area who had traveled the road and always believed that it was a public road.  But, the court did modify the trial court’s ruling that the easement encompassed five feet on each side of the road for maintenance.  The court cautioned that the easement should only encompass an area that “is reasonably necessary and convenient for the purpose for which it was created.”  Simon v. Dubuque County Bd. of Supervisors, No. 7-503/07-0020, 2007 Iowa App. LEXIS 900 (Iowa Ct. App. Aug. 22, 2007). App. LEXIS 868 (Iowa Ct. App. Jul. 25, 2007) (Unpublished).