Driveway Easement Construed

February 23, 2010 | Erin Herbold

 

A homeowner purchased their property subject to an existing easement agreement for one of the homeowners to have access to their garage through the driveway on the other’s property. This was termed the “Drive and Landscaping Easement.” The grantee of the easement was entitled to use the “westernmost thirty feet” of the adjacent lot for driveway and landscaping purposes. The easement required that the grantee was responsible for the maintenance of the driveway and the landscaping. The grantee routinely allowed friends, maintenance workers and relatives to use the driveway, and also routinely parked a large trailer in the area.

The adjacent landowners became frustrated with the traffic and filed suit at the trial court. Upon examining the facts and witness testimony, the trial court concluded that the grantee had every right to use the driveway as a residential driveway, meaning he had the right to allow access to friends, family and maintenance workers. The adjacent owners also complained about the scope of the easement and the height of the trees covering the driveway, but the trial court ordered that the easement was good for a height of ten feet above the driveway and a width of ten feet. The grantee was ordered to pay damages for improper maintenance of landscaping in the amount of $325. Both parties objected to the outcome and the Iowa Court of Appeals was asked to interpret the scope of the easement.

On appeal, the court reiterated that the overarching goal of contract interpretation (an easement is a form of real estate contract) is to “determine the intent of the parties at the time they entered into the contract.” Thus, the court was tasked with examining the intent of the original parties to this written easement. Undisputed evidence showed that the grantee had used the driveway in an expansive manner for over a decade preceeding the dispute. The purpose of the easement was for residential ingress and egress, thus the grantee’s use of the easement was appropriate in this case. 

The court agreed that the height and width requirements set by the trial court were sufficient and consistent with the driveway’s prior use. Prior use was the determinative factor, since the easement was silent as to the dimensions of the easement. Further, the trial court’s damage award against the grantee for tree trimming and landscaping was appropriate, because the grantee assumed that obligation at his sole expense under the easement. Kersey v. Babich, No. 9-790/08-1556, 2010 Iowa App. LEXIS 71 (Iowa Ct. App., Feb. 10, 2010).