Recent Developments in Neighbor vs. Neighbor Encroachment Related Disputes

By: Keith J. Turner and Angelica J. Varela

Sometimes the development and use of property goes beyond the property line, such as driveways and landscaping improvements, which are called “encroachments.”   (An “encroachment” is the extension of a building or other structure beyond the boundaries of the land on which it was rightfully constructed onto adjoining land, or into its airspace, without the permission or consent of the adjoining landowner.)   Encroachments are often discovered when a land survey is done by a property owner when submitting a new property improvement, such as when a property owner wants to add a swimming pool or home addition.  The law provides that such use and development can sometimes ripen into property rights; and, sometimes it does not.  Some recent cases highlight that the analysis can be complex and it is important for property owners to timely assert their rights, or they risk essentially losing a piece of the land.

  • Equitable easement doctrine: you may be stuck with an encroachment. California courts have discretionary authority to deny a landowner’s request to force removal of a neighbor’s encroachment and instead force the landowner to accept damages as compensation for the judicial creation of an easement over the trespassed-upon property if three elements are proven: (1) the trespass was “ ‘innocent’ ” rather than “ ‘willful or negligent,’ ” (2) the public or the property owner will not be “ ‘ “irreparabl[y] injur[ed]” ’ ” by the easement, and (3) the hardship to the trespasser from having to cease the trespass is “ ‘ “greatly disproportionate to the hardship caused [the owner] by the continuance of the encroachment.”

In Shoen v. Zacarias (2015) 237 Cal.App.4th 16, the dispute was over 481 square foot flat patch of land between two hillside properties.   When the defendant purchased her property in 2003, she thought the patch was on her property and populated it with outdoor furniture—a cabana, a chaise chair, tables, and stools; none of it is set in concrete.  But in 2005, the plaintiff’s predecessor land surveyed the boundaries and discovered that the patch belonged to him, but told the defendant she could continue to use it for as long as he owned the property.   However, in 2006, the plaintiff purchased the property and in 2011, she demanded demand that the defendant remove the furniture, even though the plaintiff could not reach the flat patch of land without a building a staircase that would cost $100,000 to build.

The trial court granted the defendant an equitable easement but the court of appeal reversed, holding that a trial court has the power to issue an equitable easement authorizing a trespasser to continue her trespass in exchange for paying damages, but only if, among other things, the hardship on the trespasser in ceasing the trespass is “greatly disproportionate” to the hardship on the land’s owner in losing use of the trespassed upon portion of her land.  Because removing the furniture would only cost $275, the court held that the defendant was not entitled to an equitable easement because hardship was not “greatly disproportionate” on the defendant.

Shoen is important because the court rejected the lesser criteria of “balancing of conveniences” or “relative hardships” as the basis to determine equitable easement rights.  Rather, the court held that the encroacher to prove that ordering removing of the encroachment would be “greatly disproportionate to the hardship caused [the owner] by the continuance of the encroachment.”

  • Parole License: verbal encroachment agreements may be enforceable

An “easement” is generally defined as the right to use someone else’s property for a specific purposes, such as access, and an easement is considered to be interest in real estate, giving the holder a right to bring a suit for trespass or ejectment. Because it is an interest in the property itself, it is subject to the statute of frauds, so it must be granted in writing.   In contrast a “license” allows its holder to perform some act on property of another, or use the property in some way. It gives the holder a personal privilege, but not an interest in the land itself.  Licenses are usually revocable.

In Richardson v. Franc (2015) 233 Cal.App.4th 744,  the dispute was whether a neighbor exceeded the scope of an express easement for access and utility purposes over a shared driveway, buy installing and maintaining landscaping, irrigation, and lighting.  The trial court ruled—irrespective of the terms of the easement—it would be inequitable to deny respondents an irrevocable license given their substantial investment of time and money on the landscaping and other improvements and the burdened property owner’s years of acquiescence.

Richardson is a major case because licenses are usually revocable, but the court held it was irrevocable and it held that it ran not only in favor of the present owners, but also to their successor-in-interest.   Hence, the court granted essentially a permanent right that runs with the land, the way an easement does.

This case also makes the analysis more difficult and harder to predict outcomes in these neighbor vs. neighbor encroachment related disputes.  The court in  Richardson discussed in great detail all of the landscaping and other improvements that were made over the years and how the burdened property benefitted from letting the easement holder do all the work and pay for all the decades of landscaping and water bills.  So having good evidence such as photos and receipts to build a case fairness and balancing the equities can be the key fact.

 

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Prevailing Defendant is Entitled to Attorney’s Fees – California Supreme Court Opinion in Tract 19051 v. Kemp (Yeldell)

In a unanimous decision by all seven Justices, the California Supreme Court held that in any action to enforce governing documents of a common interest development, the “prevailing party” is entitled to attorneys fees under Civil Code section 5975, even where plaintiffs fail to establish that a common interest development exists.  Continue reading

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CEQA and View Rights

By Keith Turner and Justin Escano

Another possible weapon for arsenal for view rights claims is the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  In a nutshell,  the CEQA law provides that if a public and private development project may create a significant environmental impact, then an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) must be prepared, analyzing the potential impacts and possible mitigation alternatives.

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Palisades News – Pacific View Rights Center

The Pacific View Rights Center ad in Palisades News, the exiting new town paper.

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Pacific Palisades Civic League – Tract 9300 website

The Pacific Palisades Civic League, the claimed guardian of Tract 9300, finally launched its own website:  www.PPCL9300.org

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Home Improvement and Resolving Contract Disputes: An Interview with Keith Turner of Turner Law Firm

 

See Keith Turner’s interview on Southern California Homes, a top site for California homes for sale, as well as New Mexico real estate, Northern California real estate and Los Angeles, CA homes for saleHome Improvement and Resolving Contract Disputes.

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Beglari Plaintiffs Win $425,000

By Keith Turner and Justin Escano

belgari

With all of its twists and turns, the Beglari case is an excellent example of just how difficult it can be to enforce Los Angeles building codes, even when multiple attorneys, retried judges, and high-end real estate are involved.

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Building and Zoning Code Enforcement – The Rustic Canyon-Greentree Road Case

Property owners have more rights and power than they realize to stop McMansion; to object to a neighbor’s construction plans; and to otherwise challenge Department of Building & Safety decisions.   Many homeowners in Los Angeles and elsewhere object to “McMansion,” which is the term used to describe new or remodeled large homes that are over-sized for the lot or incongruous for the neighborhood.   If a homeowner is concerned about a neighbor’s construction project, they may have certain legal rights and claims, which they need to timely raise. Continue reading

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Court Rules in Tramonto Dispute

A State Court of Appeal has affirmed a summary judgment in the continuing Castellammare litigation battle that pitted a homeowner against another neighbor and the local homeowners association…. Franzen was lead counsel in this case, and Palisades Attorney Keith Turner, who is of counsel to his office, worked extensively in the successful summary judgment. Mark Robertson, an associate with Franzen, worked on the Rochmans’ appellate briefs.

 Real the full Palisadian Post article here.

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HOA Board Director conflicts of interest (Castellammare litigation)

The Court of Appeal issued its decision affirming summary judgment in the long standing Castellammare litigation.  The action was filed in 2006 by Saied Kashani to challenge the  Castellammare Homeowners Association’s requirement that he erect story poles to determine the impact his proposed 7,000 square foot home would have on  the ocean and mountain views enjoyed by the neighbors.  Kashani also sued the adjoining property owners Doreen and Jerry Rochman, and their son Harvey Rochman who also lives in Castellammare.  Kashani claimed that the Rochmans used the influence and control as members of the Association Board to essentially deny his building plans.  In essence, the court of appeal ruled that the Rochmans did nothing wrong and affirmed summary judgment against Kashani on all causes of action.  This is an important ruling because it bears on what responsibilities directors of homeowners’ associations have to association members.

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