Easement ownership can be a confusing concept. An owner doesn’t possess the land, but they have limited rights to use another’s property for a specific purpose. The reasons vary according to the type of easement. Some are held for purposes of coming and going to a personal residence, while other easements are for utility maintenance. Whatever the case may be, easements are part of a larger parcel of land that must be maintained. If they fall into disrepair or are not maintained, they can impact the quality and value of the surrounding property, or make the easement unusable. Therefore, when those responsible for the easement’s care fail to maintain or repair them, it can be highly problematic. If you are a landowner or easement holder position, you will need to know: How can I enforce maintenance easement obligations?
Maintenance Easement Obligations
Under California law, easement owners are usually responsible for maintaining easements. This duty ordinarily includes paying for necessary repairs and upkeep. If there is more than one easement owner, or the easement is attached to parcels of land under different ownership, the maintenance and repair cost will be shared by the easement co-owners or landowners according to any agreements they may have signed. If the owners don’t have an agreement, each is responsible for their proportionate share of the cost based on their use of the easement.
Suppose an easement owner fails to pay their portion of the maintenance costs or expenses. In that case, the law provides that after making a demand in writing to pay what is due, any of the other owners, either together or separately, can bring “an action to recover that owner’s share of the cost, or for specific performance or contribution.” The action can be filed before, during, or after the necessary work is completed.
Enforcing the Maintenance Obligation
The law explicitly requires that easement owners attempt to informally resolve these matters by sending the violating easement holder a demand letter. If that attempt is unsuccessful, then the injured easement holder or holders can file suit to either make the non-compliant party do their part (Specific Performance) or contribute or reimburse the other parties for a portion of their expenses.
A party seeking contribution or costs may file their action in small claims court if the owner’s share of the expenses is not above the court’s jurisdictional limit. In general, California small claims courts have a jurisdictional limit of $10,000. If the amount is more than the jurisdictional limit for a small claims case, the easement holder can file in Superior Court.
When easements aren’t properly maintained or repaired, it can create issues on multiple levels. Often, the best way to avoid having to enforce an easement maintenance obligation is by working with an experienced California real estate attorney before the problem arises. Your counsel can examine the property records, identify potential issues, and help you develop an agreement that clearly defines how the easement will be maintained.
Attorney Raffy Boulgourjian is a California real estate attorney with over twenty years of experience representing clients in residential and commercial real estate cases. He has the knowledge and expertise to assist with your unlawful detainer action, landlord-tenant disputes, and all of your other California real estate interests. Contact Mr. Boulgourjian today to schedule a free legal consultation to discuss your California real estate needs.