Skip to main content



Schaffhauser v. Crows Mill Trust

A-1134-03T5 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2006) (Unpublished)

EASEMENTS — Where a driveway easement includes language in the easement agreement that the easement area is to be maintained in a good, functional condition for its intended driveway use, the beneficiary of the easement has the right to replace a high maintenance, loose gravel stone driveway with a paved driveway.

A parcel of land did not have access to a street. It adjoined a parcel of land that had street access. The original owners of these two adjoining parcels of land executed an easement agreement providing for, among other things, ingress and egress for the benefit of the landlocked parcel. The easement agreement also provided that the owner of the dominant lot had the right to maintain the easement area for vehicular passage, and that the costs of maintenance would be shared according to a specified formula between the owners of both lots. Further, the easement agreement made specific allowance for repairs or maintenance “... required to maintain the said driveway in good, functional condition for its intended driveway usage.” Both lots were sold to subsequent owners.

A gravel stone driveway was constructed in the easement area. Despite requests to pave the driveway from the owner of the dominant lot to the owner of the servient lot, the owner of the servient lot refused to do so. The owner of the servient lot claimed that the easement agreement only provided for maintenance of the existing gravel driveway, and did not call for a paved driveway. The driveway was refreshed with gravel on a yearly basis. The owner of the dominant lot asserted that the combination of the weather, the steeply sloped topography of the land, and the vehicular use of the driveway contributed to a constant sweeping away of the loose gravel stones leaving the driveway in a constant state of disrepair which impeded ingress and egress and created a health hazard because vehicles entering the street lost traction at the end of the driveway if the gravel has been swept away. As such, the owner of the dominant lot argued that replacing loose gravel stone was an unacceptable manner of maintaining the driveway, and sought a declaratory judgment confirming that it had the right to pave the driveway. The lower court agreed and the owner of the servient lot appealed.

Any proposed change to the condition of an access easement must be within the contemplation and intention of the grantor and not be more burdensome on the servient estate than reasonably necessary. The owner of a dominant estate has the burden of proving that any changes to an easement would not unreasonably interfere with the use of the servient estate. Here, the experience of the owner of the dominant estate in gathering the washed-out loose gravel and re-graveling the driveway was consistent with its expert’s opinion at trial that re-graveling such a steeply sloped driveway was futile. The intent of the original grantor was to allow the grantee the right to pave the driveway, or do any other act to maintain the driveway in a good working condition. The agreement gave the owner of the dominant parcel the right to re-gravel, construct, and resurface the easement area. The intent of the original grantor was further evidenced by language in the agreement allowing the easement area to be maintained in a “good, functional condition for its intended driveway use ... .” Looking at this, the Court opined that the intent of the original grantor, and the fact that the washed-out loose gravel made the driveway unsafe for vehicular use, made it reasonably necessary for the owner of the dominant parcel to pave the driveway. Thus, the owner of the dominant parcel had the right to replace the loose gravel stone driveway with a paved driveway.


MEISLIK & MEISLIK
66 Park Street • Montclair, New Jersey 07042
tel: 973-783-3000 • fax: 973-744-5757 • info@meislik.com