In our previous post, we discussed the relative duties of easement owners and users to maintain an easement. In this post, we discuss how to enforce easement maintenance and what to do if someone who is responsible for maintaining an easement refuses to contribute towards maintenance or repair costs.
Generally, the owner of any easement has a duty to maintain the easement. If the easement is owned by more than one person, or is attached parcels of land under different ownership, each owner must share in the cost of maintaining the easement pursuant to their agreement. If there is no agreement in place, each owner is responsible for their proportionate share of the cost based on their use. In the event an easement owner refuses to contribute as required, Civil Code section 845 controls.
What to Do If Informal Enforcement Fails?
Specifically, pursuant to Civil Code section 845, if any owner refuses to perform, or fails after a demand in writing to pay their share of the cost, the other owner or owners may bring an action against the defaulting owner to force them to comply by suing for specific performance or contribution. A servient tenement can also bring a claim against the defaulting dominant tenement for contribution or specific performance. The lawsuit to enforce maintenance duties may occur before, during or after the work is performed. In the absence of any agreement addressing the maintenance of the easement, the owner seeking contribution or specific performance should file the lawsuit in a court located in the same county in which the easement is located.
If the owner’s share of the cost does not exceed the jurisdictional limit of the small claims court, the action may be brought in small claims court. This is true only to the extent that you are suing for contribution. If you are suing in equity – for specific performance, then the action must be maintained as an unlimited action. In Los Angeles, the jurisdictional limit for small claims is less than or equal to $10,000. If the share of the cost exceeds the jurisdictional limit of the small claims court, the action shall be filed in superior court and may be subject to judicial arbitration if the amount in controversy is $50,000 or less. However, nothing prevents the parties from engaging in alternative dispute resolution to try and resolve the dispute.
Schorr Law has extensive experience with all types of easement disputes, including disputes regarding the maintenance and repair of easements.