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Khalil v. Motwani

376 N.J. Super. 496, 871 A.2d 96 (App. Div. 2005)

EASEMENTS; MAINTENANCE—The obligation to maintain or repair an easement, such as to remove snow, rests solely with the beneficiaries of the easement; the burdened owner is merely required to refrain from unreasonably interfering with the easement’s use.

A tenant of an apartment building sought damages after clearing snow within an easement over a neighboring landowners’ property. The lower court held that the tenant had no standing since he was not the owner of the apartment building benefitting from the easement.

The Appellate Division held that “standing to sue to enforce the use of an easement is commensurate with the right to use the easement, regardless of whether the suitor holds title to the benefitted property.” The Court additionally held that ownership of the land “‘intended to benefit from enforcement’” of the easement “‘is not a prerequisite to enforcement.’” The Court also held that whether the tenant was “entitled to benefit from the easement” turned on the interpretation of the language ... that created the easement” as well as the parties’ intent. The Court found no language in the instrument creating the easement which excluded tenants from benefitting from its use.

The Court additionally found that while the tenant had a right to utilize the easement as well as a right to enforce it, “[t]he removal of snow from an easement is a matter of maintenance,” which the easement’s beneficiary – not the burdened property owner – is generally responsible for. Thus, “the obligation to maintain or repair the easement rests solely with the beneficiaries of the easement,” while the burdened landowner is merely required to “refrain from taking any action ... that would ‘unreasonably interfere’ with the beneficiaries’ use of the easement.” Since the burdened landowners did nothing to “unreasonably interfere” with the easement’s use, they “bore no obligation to remove” snow from it and therefore the tenant had “no cause of action against” the landowners since after he removed the snow on his own volition. Finally, since the tenant did not make such a claim, the Court failed to rule on whether the tenant “would have an actionable, similar claim against his fellow tenants or against the owner” of his apartment.

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