Iowa Court of Appeals Grants Landowner Only a Prescriptive Easement for a Fence Line, No New Boundary by Acquiescence

January 14, 2014 | Kristine A. Tidgren

Gartin v. Farrell, No. 3-1005/13-0061, 2014 Iowa App. LEXIS 1 (Iowa Ct. App. Jan. 9, 2014)

The Iowa Court of Appeals recently decided that a landowner was entitled to a prescriptive easement for a fence erected on land owned by the adjacent landowner. The court ruled, however, that his prescriptive easement did not cover anything more than the fence line and that he had not established a new boundary by acquiescence. The property in dispute was the .92 acre triangular tract depicted in the upper left corner of the picture above. 

The parties to the appeal were adjoining landowners whose predecessors had agreed in 1990 to erect a “sturdy new fence” between their properties. The fence, constructed by the appellee’s predecessors with materials purchased by appellant’s predecessors, was located diagonally across appellee’s property, just east of a waterway and ravine. The .92-acre triangular tract in dispute—property owned by appellee pursuant to survey records—was located on appellant’s side of the fence.

The district court had ruled that the appellant was entitled to a prescriptive easement as to the fence and its surrounding area pursuant to a “relaxed standard” for finding a prescriptive easement. The relaxed standard does not require proof of a hostile use of the property; instead, it requires only proof that “the party claiming the easement has expended substantial amounts of labor or money in reliance upon the servient owner’s consent.” The district court also, without elaboration, ruled that the appellant had not established title to the disputed tract by acquiescence.

On appeal, the appellant argued that he should have been granted a prescriptive easement for the entire disputed tract, not merely for the fence line. He also argued that the district court should have found that he had established the right to a new boundary by acquiescence pursuant to Iowa Code § 650.14. The Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that the parties’ predecessors had located the fence line on the appellee’s property as a convenience to both parties since the actual property line crossed a waterway and a ravine. The court found that the disputed property was unusable, that the parties had made no agreements regarding the use of that property, and that neither party had used the property since the fence was built. Thus, the appellant was not entitled to a prescriptive easement for the entire parcel.

The court also found that the appellant failed to prove a new boundary by acquiescence. Under Iowa law, a new boundary by “acquiescence” is created where two adjoining landowners, for 10 years or more, have recognized that a line marked by a fence or in some manner is the dividing line between them and they have treated the line as a boundary. Here, the court found that the disputed property was rough and generally unusable and that no one had used or maintained the area at all. As such, there was no evidence that either party treated the fence as the actual “property line” or that the appellee knew that the appellant was claiming the fence as the property line and did nothing. Under those facts, no new boundary by acquiescence was established.