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Can a negative easement help ease neighborly disputes?

At some point, most people will have a disagreement with a neighbor. For residents of rural Montana, land and home are things of great personal value and pride. As a property owner, you want to be able to enjoy your property the best you can, and sometimes, your neighbors may impinge on your ability to do so.

A Californian resident in 2002 had one such experience. One day, he found that his neighbor had planted a line of trees that perfectly obstructed his mountain view. Naturally he felt that his neighbor shouldn’t be able to do this. But did he have any way to prevent this from happening?

Luckily, the American court system understands these kinds of neighborly disputes and recognizes easements as provisions to deal with these issues. An easement is a provision that someone, usually a neighbor can have over a property that’s owned by someone else.

Typically, easements are affirmative, meaning it gives the easement holder a right to the servient land, such as an irrigation ditch or road running through the owner’s property.

However, though less common, there are also negative easements. A negative easement basically entitles you to have a claim over how a neighbor uses their land if it negatively impacts your ability to enjoy your property, such as in the case involving a neighbor planting a line of trees.

But this does not mean that you automatically have a winning case if your neighbor obstructs your view. In fact, typically, courts do not recognize a property owner’s right to an easement in the case of light or air obstruction. In the previously mentioned case of Wilson v. Handley, 97 Cal. App. 4th 1301 (2002), however,the courts decided that the neighbor who had planted the trees had done so in spite, so the resident was granted a negative easement.

So can a negative easement help you with a dispute? The answer is it depends; but if talking with your neighbor isn’t getting an agreeable result, you may look further into easements to determine if you have some recourse.

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