Can a land owner build a permanent structure within an easement in Idaho?
If the easement is an express easement that provides a definite location and dimensions, the answer is "No", even if the structure does not unreasonably interfere with the easement owner.
In Johnson v. Highway 101 Investments, LLC, the Plaintiffs had an express easement over a certain parcel of land. 156 Idaho 1, 2, 319 P.3d 485, 486 (2014), reh'g denied (Mar. 10, 2014). The Defendant landowner built a sign within the easement. Id. The sign was twenty feet wide, ten feet tall, and fourteen feet above the ground. Id. The sign sat atop a sign-post that is sixteen inches in diameter; there is also a bollard on either side of the post measuring five inches in diameter. Id. The sign was slightly less than six feet away from the northern boundary of the twenty-five-foot-wide easement, effectively reducing the easement width to slightly over nineteen feet at the point of the post and bollards. Id. However, because the Plaintiff's property ran adjacent to the southern boundary of the easement, the total distance between the sign and the Plaintiff's building was between fifty and fifty-nine feet. Id. Plaintiff sued claiming that the sign unreasonably interfered with the use of the easement. Id. The District Court agreed with the landowner and held that the sign did not unreasonably interfere with the easement. Id.
The Idaho Supreme Court reversed the District Court holding that a permanent structure is "per se unreasonable if it diminishes an easement with definite location and dimensions." Id. This provides "a clear, bright-line standard" that avoids "costly and time-consuming litigation concerning whether the [landowner's] use of the easement area is reasonable." Id.
In short, if an easement is definite as to location and dimension, a permanent structure may not be built within it. A court will not consider whether the structure actually interferes with the easement.
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