Richardson v. Franc is a case of once happy neighbors becoming less so.
There was peace for many years. For their driveway, James Richardson and Lisa Donetti (“respondents”) had an access easement over their neighbors’ property. The boundaries of the easement had beautiful landscaping and an expensive and complicated irrigation and lighting system around and under the driveway. The respondents and their predecessors maintained the easement with their neighbors for over 20 years.
The Francs bought the neighboring property in 2004. For six years, they lived in harmony. In late 2010, the discord began. Mr. Franc cut the irrigation and electrical lines without notice and then had an attorney send a letter demanding the removal of all landscaping within five days. Litigation ensued.
The trial court held that there was an irrevocable license to maintain the landscaping and supporting systems. The Francs appealed.
The landscaping exceeded the defined purpose of the access easement. The Francs’ predecessor permitted, however, if not encouraged, the landscaping, creating a revocable license. A license is typically revocable, but can become irrevocable when the grantor knowingly allows acts that involve substantial amounts of money and improvement. It would then be unfair to terminate the license, which becomes irrevocable.
Licenses and easements are creatures of equity and fairness. The Francs lost their right to claim fairness when they cut the lines. The court’s opinion did not say that bad people should not prevail, but I expect that the trial court judge and the appellate panel probably thought it.