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A property owner asked the court to agree that a fifteen-foot “driveway easement” across his lot no longer existed based on three possible theories:  (1) the original purpose for granting the easement had been extinguished; (2) the easement had been abandoned; and (3) the easement was removed by mutual agreement of the property owners. However, the trial court found that the property owner did not prove any of his theories and upheld the continued validity of the easement. On appeal, the court affirmed the trial court’s decision that the easement on the property had not been vacated. 

Two recent Iowa cases point out that when details of intentions concerning the use and responsibilities between parties affecting land are not explicitly written out, disputes can occur upon change in ownership and control of that land. That is precisely what happened in the following cases. The parties and facts are the same for both cases.

Adverse possession requires open, hostile, actual, exclusive and continuous possession of property under a claim of title for at least ten years. The burden is on the party seeking to establish title through adverse possession to establish this possession by clear proof.

Here, the Iowa Court of Appeals was asked to determine whether a right of first refusal in a real estate contract is freely assignable or whether it is personal to the party who contracts for it.  In this case, the defendants entered into a contract to sell their farmland to a cattle farmer, but retained the acre of land on which their homestead was located. Under the real estate contract, the farmer had the right of first refusal upon the sale of the one-acre tract. A year after the sale, the farmer turned around and sold the farm to the plaintiffs.

A key element of contract law is that the terms in a written agreement control.  While limited situations can arise that allow for equitable arguments to be made that might allow conduct contrary to written contract terms, that’s the clear minority of situations.  Those principles were involved in this case.

In cases of civil liability, Iowa follows the rule of comparative fault- the fault of the party alleging the wrong may be applied to the measure of damages awarded.  Here, an Iowa dairy farmer sued an electric utility for nuisance arising out of health problems, low milk production and a high death rate in his dairy herd from 1999 to 2003. The farmer alleged that the herd’s health problems and the farm’s eventual bankruptcy were associated with stray voltage from the electric utility’s installations.

October 14, 2008 | Roger McEowen

An owner of property that is subject to an easement may try to claim that an easement has been extinguished because the holder of the easement has abandoned the easement. But, lack of use of an easement does not normally amount to abandonment and the right to use the easement will remain even if it has not been used for a very long time.

July 7, 2011 | Erin C. Herbold-Swalwell

The current owner of a farm asserted ownership of a cemetery plot located on the hilltop of the farm.  A prior owner of the farm, however, claimed ownership of the cemetery plot which contained the cremated remains of his parents.  Family members of the owners of the farm had been buried in the plot since 1775.  When the farm was sold in 1853, the deed conveyed the farm, but excluded the burial plot. This became known as the “cemetery exception” and was included in all subsequent deeds transferring the farm property.

September 11, 2007 | Roger McEowen

On September 11, 2007, Senate Finance Committee Chairman, Max Baucus (D-MT) discussed his goals for an agricultural tax package to be considered by the Committee.  The package would include a series of agricultural tax credits, bonds and a trust fund as part of a farm bill that would provide billions of dollars in aid to farmers and pay for the nation’s nutrition programs.  The cost of the tax proposals is estimated to be between $8 billion and $10 billion.  That amount would be added to the bill’s baseline spending which is estimated to exceed $280 billion over five years.  The next day, t

November 12, 2007 | Roger McEowen

On October 4, the Senate Finance Committee approved, on a 17-4 vote, the Heartland, Habitat, Harvest and Horticulture Act of 2007. The bill was introduced into the full Senate on October 25, 2007.

The following is a summary of the major provisions of the legislation:

November 12, 2007 | Roger McEowen

The tax code allows a deduction for any charitable contribution.  That includes a qualified real property interest donated to a charity exclusively for conservation purposes.  A qualified real property interest is a restriction granted in perpetuity on the use which may be made of the property, including an easement.  In 2004, the Congress added reporting and substantiation requirements for non-cash charitable contributions and, under the Pension Protection Act of 2006, the Congress increased penalties for inaccurate appraisals and new definitions of qualified appraisals and appraisers for

December 17, 2010 | Roger McEowen

Over the past couple of weeks, the White House gave up on its push for a tax increase on higher income earners and began pushing a deal with key tax legislators in the House and Senate to addresses a number of tax provisions in addition to keeping 2011 individual income tax rates at the 2010 level, at least for a short period of time.  While the bill does contain a tax increase on decedent’s estates(and generation skipping transfers) compared to the 2010 law, the estate tax provisions are more favorable than many expected.  The bill passed the Senate on December 15 by a vote of 81-19, and j

An easement by prescription is an implied easement that is granted when someone has used at least a portion of someone else’s property in an open and uninterrupted manner for a continuous period of time – 10 years in Iowa.  In order to establish a prescriptive easement, the person claiming the easement exists must provide strict proof of the following: using another’s property under a claim of right, openly, notoriously, continuously, and in a hostile manner (in opposition to the claim of another) for ten years.

When an administrative procedure and remedy is statutorily provided, litigants must exhaust their administrative remedies before the state courts have jurisdiction to hear the complaint. In the following Iowa case, a landowner who did not agree with the placement of electrical transmission lines tried to bypass the Iowa Utilities Board’s adjudicative process by filing suit directly in state court.  It didn’t work. 

In Iowa, the owner of an upper or dominant estate has a legal easement over the lower or servient estate for the natural drainage of water. The servient estate has a duty to accept this flow of water and cannot take measures to prevent it.

January 7, 2013 | Roger McEowen

On January 1, the U.S. Senate finally took up H.R. 8 which had passed the U.S. House in late July.  The Senate renamed the bill as “The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012” and made changes to it and shipped it back to the House.  The House approved the changes late on January 1.  The President signed the legislation into law on January 2, 2013.

Iowa Code §468.621 states that a landowner “may drain the land in the general course of natural drainage by constructing or reconstructing open or covered drains, discharging the drains in any natural watercourse or depression so the water will be carried into some other natural watercourse…”.  In addition, if the drainage is done solely upon the landowner’s property, the landowner is not liable for damages for the drainage unless it increases the quantity of water or changes the manner of discharge on the land of another.  In this case, a landowner claimed that his property had be

January 31, 2011 | Erin Herbold

Development agricultural property around the Des Moines metro area provided the background for this case in which the Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed a Dallas County trial court’s ruling recognizing an easement for access to farmland across developed lots. The plaintiffs owned and farmed the ag property adjacent to the existing housing development.  They sued seeking judicial recognition of their right to access a farm field through the driveways of the lots. The defendant lot owners countersued, asking the court for damages caused by the farmer crossing their lots. 

In general, a deduction is not available for charitable contributions of partial interests in property and an easement, by definition, is a partial interest in property. But, an exception exists for an easement that is a “qualified conservation contribution.” A “qualified conservation contribution” is defined in as the contribution of a qualified real property interest to a qualified organization exclusively for conservation purposes.

August 15, 2008 | Scott G. Buchanan*

Wind blows across broad stretches of northern Iowa at an average speed of 15.7 to 17.9 mph. year round, scouring the soil, swirling the leaves and chapping our lips. Those winds also light our homes, cook our food and power our computers.

It’s a well-known rule that a private landowner cannot assert a claim of adverse possession against the government.  But, can the government acquire title to private property via adverse possession?  If so, the government is able to side-step the Fifth Amendment requirement that it pay “just compensation” for the taking of private property.  The issue of the government’s assertion of ownership via adverse possession was involved in this case.