Easement By Implication At Issue

December 30, 2010 | Erin Herbold


In this case, the plaintiff sought a reversal of the trial court’s opinion that she did not have an easement by implication over her neighbor’s property.   The parties own adjoining parcels of land. A steep, wooded bluff divides the plaintiff’s property and for several years she used a gravel road running across the defendant’s property to access the rear portion of her land. The plaintiff argued that the land was inaccessible by vehicle without the use of the gravel road and that she was entitled to an easement by implication in the gravel road. Transfers of the defendant’s property prior to their purchase of it in 2007 did not indicate the use of the gravel road. Basically, there was no evidence that an easement was in existence prior to 2007.

At trial, the plaintiffs testified that the only way to access the property by vehicle was the gravel road. They argued that they would not be able to enjoy the property to its fullest if they could not enter the rear lot by vehicle. The defendant testified that he agreed to let the plaintiffs use the gravel road if they would make a “reasonable effort” to call him first and would make a key available to the plaintiffs for emergency situations (the defendant had installed a gate blocking access to the gravel road.) The trial court could not find enough evidence to establish that the prior owners of the adjoining parcel had ever established an easement for access of the rear lot. The trial court found that the plaintiffs did not meet the four-prong test required for establishing an easement by implication.  In Iowa, an easement by implication arises when the following four conditions are present:  separation of title; a showing that the use was obvious and intended to be permanent; that the use is continuous rather than temporary; and that the easement is essential to the beneficial enjoyment of the land.

According to the appellate court, the purpose of the route is the most important consideration in cases of easement by implication.   In this case, motor vehicle access “was not essential to the [plaintiffs’] beneficial enjoyment of the land.” The court found that if the plaintiff really wanted motor vehicle access to the property, they could have removed some trees and created a lane of their own. Gibson v. Hatfield, No. 0-709/09-1918 (Iowa Ct. App. Dec. 22, 2010).