In the 1960s, the owner of lakefront property sold two parcels that were not on the lakefront and granted a 20-foot-wide easement across his lakefront parcel "for access to [the] Lake." The owners of the “back lots” installed a dock within the 20-foot easement and stored the dock on the easement during the winter months. They also used the easement to moor their boats and for recreational activities in addition to access to the lake. These uses of the easement were beyond the express terms of the access easement. The original owner and subsequent owners of the lakefront parcel did not attempt to limit the use of the easement to an access-only easement. In 2015, however (50 years after the 20-foot easement was granted), subsequent owners of the lakefront lot indicated to the back lot owners that use of the 20-foot easement must be limited to accessing the lake per the express terms of the easement and for no other purpose. The back lot owners refused to move their dock. The owner of the lakefront parcel sued the owners of the back lots for “overuse” of the 20-foot easement, beyond mere access to the lake.
This seems like a reasonable argument, that those who were using the 20-foot easement were violating the terms of the easement and must be prohibited from continuing to do so. The court agreed that “the plain language of the easement established that” the original lakefront owner intended that the back lot owners only have access to the lake and not “unlimited use . . . or riparian rights.” The court went on to explain, however, that the back lot owners had established a “prescriptive easement,” which is similar to an “adverse possession” claim. In other words, the back lot owners had overused the access easement for many years in an open, unopposed manner and without express permission. The lakefront property owners did not do anything during the 50 years to prevent the back lot owners from overusing the easement, and thus, such use of the easement became an actual right over time that could not be taken away.
If you allow others to use your real property in a way that is not expressly granted, it can “ripen” into a right of use that you may not have contemplated. The earlier you address such situations, the better you can protect your property from unintended uses. Contact our office at (248) 477-6300 to discuss any concerns about how your property is being used.