Litigation over easement rights is a common occurrence in Oregon. In their most typical form, these lawsuits are filed as declaratory judgment actions under Oregon’s Uniform Declaratory Judgment Act, ORS 28.010 et seq. As easement rights can span a number of properties and touch upon the property interests of many parties, the attorney filing the lawsuit is faced with the question of who must be named as defendants. The title holders to the affected properties are obviously necessary parties, but what about holders of lesser property rights, such as easements?
There are three types of easements that can be created without an express agreement: an implied easement, an easement by necessity, and a prescriptive easement. It is not uncommon to see all three types of unwritten easements pled in a lawsuit seeking quiet title even though the elements for establishing each type of easement are quite different. The following is a quick primer of the elements necessary to establish each type of easement where there is no written agreement to convey an easement.
Implied Easement. An implied easement can only be created where property held under one ownership is divided into separately owned parts. An easement may be implied when the circumstances existing at the time ownership is divided establishes that the grantor intended to create an easement. The following factors are considered by the Court in deciding whether an implied easement exists: (1) whether the claimant is the conveyor or the conveyee; (2) the terms of the conveyance; (3) the consideration given for it; (4) whether the claim is made against a simultaneous conveyee; (5) the extent of necessity of the easement to the claimant; (6) whether reciprocal benefits result to the conveyor and conveyee; (7) the manner in which the land was used prior to its conveyance; and (8) the extent to which the manner of prior use was or might have been known to the parties. Cheney v. Mueller, 259 Or 108, 118-119 (1971). The Court of Appeals recently clarified that the key time point for analyzing whether the grantor intent to provide an easement is the date ownership of the land is divided and not the date the land was partitioned or platted. Manusos v. Skeels, 263 Or App 721, 730 (2014). The Court of Appeals also clarified that the “necessity” needed to establish an implied easement is not the “absolute necessity” required for an easement by necessity (discussed next). Id. at 732.
Easement by Necessity. An easement by necessity is created when the following three factors are present: (1) unity of title in the grantor; (2) severance of ownership; (3) actual necessity. Unlike an implied easement, an easement by necessity is terminated once the necessity ceases to exist. Relling v. Khorenian, 261 Or App 1, 8-9 (2014).
Prescriptive Easement. In order to establish a prescriptive easement, the claimant must show by clear and convincing evidence that they or their predecessors, under a claim of right, used the alleged easement adversely to the rights of the respondent or their predecessors for a continuous and uninterrupted period of 10 years. Thompson v. Scott, 270 Or 542, 546, 528 P2d 509 (1974). It is important to note that the adverse possession statute (ORS 105.620), which includes the additional requirement of an “honest belief” of ownership by the claimant, does not apply to prescriptive easements. Uhl v. Krupsky, 254 Or App 736, 740-741 (2013). Although courts recognize that a presumption of adversity arises from open and continuous use of property, that presumption may be rebutted by showing the use was permissive or by showing the claimant’s use of an existing roadway over a neighbor’s land does not interfere with the neighbor’s use. Woods v. Hart, 254 Or 434, 437, 458 P2d 945 (1969).
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