AlleyIn California, the rules regarding adverse possession and prescriptive easement are well established. Adverse possession requires evidence of payment of property taxes by the party seeking to obtain adverse possession, whereas payment of property taxes is ordinarily not a requirement for a party seeking to obtain a prescriptive easement over the property of another.

A recent decision regarding commercial property in Orange County, California addressed one rare situation in which payment of property taxes may be required to establish a prescriptive easement.

The plaintiff in Main Street Plaza v. Cartwright and Main LLC (2011) 194 Cal.App.4th 1044 owned a retail shopping center. One defendant owned the adjacent property. An alley was located behind the two parcels. The second defendant owned the property behind the other two parcels, on the other side of the alley. To make it even more interesting, there was an easement owned by a railroad for “railroad purposes only” that was located in the alley but which hadn’t been used for many years.

The customers and vendors of Main Street Plaza regularly used the alley for parking and for access, so the plaintiff felt they had obtained a prescriptive easement and filed suit to quiet title to their prescriptive easement. The railroad easement was separately assessed and taxed, and the railroad had paid the property taxes on its easement. Both defendants argued that the case involved a rare exception in prescriptive easement law, where if the underlying easement is separately assessed, the trespasser (plaintiff) was required to pay property taxes on the claimed prescriptive easement in order for the wrongful use to ripen into a prescriptive easement. The trial court agreed, and since the plaintiff had not paid the property taxes assessed on the easement, they had not established a prescriptive easement.

The Court of Appeal reversed, reasoning that the rule about paying property taxes only applies when the prescriptive easement and the granted easement are co-extensive in use. Here, the prescriptive easement was for access and parking. The deeded railroad easement was only for railroad purposes, so the uses were not identical. Consequently, payment of property taxes by the plaintiff was not an element of their claim for a proscriptive easement.

This case demonstrates a couple of legal points. First, that you can have an easement by prescription across another recorded easement. Second, that in rare instances, the prescriptive easement is similar to adverse possession, in that it requires payment of property taxes.

Property owners faced with the complexities of easements, should consult an experienced California real estate attorney. The attorneys at Reid & Hellyer have extensive experience in real estate law.

The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice from Reid & Hellyer, APC or the individual author, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this Post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.