Court Imposed a “Rule of Reasonableness and Mutual Accommodation” on Neighboring Property Owners
Owning real property that is subject to an easement may include an obligation to sign land use or building permit applications or other documents necessary for the owner of the land benefitted by the easement to use his or her land. The California Court of Appeal recently decided the case of Dolnikov v. Ekizian, in which the court determined that the owner of land burdened by an access easement benefitting neighboring property unreasonably interfered with the neighbor’s use of the easement by refusing to sign documents required by the city’s building department for construction of houses on the neighboring property and improvement of the surface of the easement for access to the neighboring property.
The court imposed a “rule of reasonableness and mutual accommodation” on neighboring property owners in dealing with each other. Unfortunately, reasonableness can often be a difficult standard for neighbors to satisfy. The court acknowledged that reasonableness depends on the facts and circumstances of each case, and whether or not a particular action by a property owner is an unreasonable interference with a neighbor’s easement is a question of fact for a jury. The underlying lesson, though, is that neighbors need to be reasonable in their dealings with each other.
Dolnikov acquired two properties that were benefitted by an access easement over neighboring land. Then, she applied for and obtained permits from the City of Los Angeles to build two single-family residences on her properties and improve the access easement on the neighboring property to provide access to the new homes. She also obtained a community driveway agreement from the owner of the neighboring property burdened by the access easement. During construction of the homes by Dolnikov, the neighboring property that was subject to the access easement was sold to Ekizian with disclosure of Dolnikov’s easement rights over the property and existing construction project. When the city required Dolnikov to get the signature of Ekizian on a community driveway agreement and retaining wall permit to maintain her building permits and obtain city certificates of occupancy for the two houses that Dolnikov was building on her property, Ekizian refused to sign the documents and claimed that Dolnikov did not have the right to enter his property to improve the easement area. There was also evidence that Ekizian was trying to extort money from Dolnikov before he would sign the required documents.
The court found that Ekizian’s refusal to sign the community driveway agreement and retaining wall permit required by the city rendered Dolnikov’s easement utterly useless for its intended purpose (access to her property) and a complete obstruction of the access easement. Dolnikov recovered substantial damages against Ekizian and a court order requiring Ekizian to sign the community driveway agreement and retaining wall permit required by the city.