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1952 Union Valley Road, L.L.C. v. Adelo Corporation

A-3203-08T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2010) (Unpublished)

EASEMENTS — When the buyer of a property is well aware that a neighbor had cleared, paved, and maintained a portion of the buyer’s property and did nothing to stop it, an easement by estoppel is appropriate but, if the arrangement made by the predecessor owner was based on a personal relationship with the neighbor, the granting of such an easement in perpetuity is inappropriate.

One property owner disputed a neighboring property owner’s right to use six parking spaces on his property. One property was used as a convenience store and the second property, which was located across the street, was used as a shopping center. The shopping center owner asked the convenience store property owner if he could use a 40’ x 40’ strip of his property for overflow parking for the shopping center. The parties reached an oral agreement, and based on that understanding the shopping center owner cleared and paved the area and striped six parking spaces. The shopping center owner utilized the six parking spaces for the next nine years, and performed weeding and other maintenance to the spaces. However, it never paid the owner for use of the spaces and never contributed to the taxes or insurance for that portion of the convenience store owner’s property.

Eventually, the two owners had a falling out. The convenience store property went into foreclosure and the new owner objected to the continued use of the parking spaces. He placed rocks in order to block access to the parking spaces. Then, he filed a quiet title action against the shopping center owner, claiming that it had no legal right to use the parking spaces. The shopping center owner claimed that it had an easement to use the parking spaces.

The lower court found that there was an oral understanding regarding the use of the parking spaces, but it rejected the shopping center owner’s claim that it was entitled to an easement by express conveyance, implication or prescription. However, the lower court found that there was an easement by estoppel because the shopping center owner openly cleared and paved the property, and maintained it for nine years, but the convenience store owner did nothing about it. Nevertheless, the lower court found that, as a matter of equity, the easement was personal to the shopping center owner’s shareholder (who reached the oral agreement) and that it would lapse on his death or the transfer of his interest in the company.

The convenience store owner appealed the finding of an easement and the shopping center owner cross-appealed the finding that the easement was personal and would lapse. The Appellate Division affirmed for the reasons stated by the lower court. It found that, based on the lower court’s finding that the convenience store owner was well aware that the shopping center owner had cleared, paved, and maintained the property and did nothing to stop it, an easement by estoppel was appropriate. The Court also agreed that the arrangement between the owners was based on a personal relationship, and therefore granting an easement in perpetuity was inappropriate.

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