For those interested in easements disputes, a new case from the Georgia Court of Appeals is worth reviewing. Patel Taherbhai, Inc. v. Broad Street Stockbridge, LLC, A19A0820 (October 3, 2019). This case involves adjoining landowners, Patel and Broad Street, who got into a dispute regarding an easement the landowners’ predecessor-in-interests had agreed to. The easement was on Patel’s property and allowed Broad Street to go over Patel’s property to reach a public street.
Broad Street complained that Patel was blocking access to the easement. After back and forth between the parties’ attorneys, Broad Street filed an ejectment lawsuit against Patel. The lawsuit alleged Patel had constructed improper and unsafe encroachments on the easement, which were denying Broad Street access and diminishing the value of its property, and therefore the encroachments should be removed. Patel denied the alleged encroachments were blocking access, and, even if access was being blocked, Broad Street had consented to the encroachments by failing to timely object.
The trial judge agreed with Broad Street and ordered the encroachments ejected (i.e., removed) from the easement. An appeal was filed. The appellate court’s analysis focused on whether a party is entitled to file an ejectment lawsuit to remove an encroachment from an easement. Importantly, and in a well-reasoned decision, the appellate court determined that ejectment cannot be used in these situations. Instead, ejectment only applies when a party’s rightful possession to its property is being denied. Here, Patel’s alleged misconduct wasn’t occurring on Broad Street’s property (instead, it was occurring on Patel’s property) and therefore Patel wasn’t interfering with Broad’s Street’s possession of its property. This does not mean Patel is off the hook, only that the correct remedy is these cases is to file an action for damages and/or an injunction.
While many appellate decisions unfortunately provide little guidance, this thoughtful decision arrives at a ruling by carefully examining prior case law (going back to the 1800’s) and opinions expressed by real estate experts. In the end, lawyers (and landowners) now have a definitive understanding of how to handle situations in which an adjoining neighbor blocks an easement.
If you’re in a real estate dispute, please contact us for a free evaluation.