Easement rights and beach access have been an ongoing and regular area of dispute. One strategy to keep neighbors off property recently failed in Ditzian v. Unger. The case involved years of a Rear Property Owner and their guests walking over another’s property to gain access to the sand dunes of MacKerricher State Park in Mendocino. The Rear Property Owner had done so for many years. Their Airbnb guests had also accessed the dunes through the neighbor’s property. At trial the court found that the Rear Property Owner had secured a prescriptive easement. Albeit an oversimplified explanation, this is essentially an easement taken by years of use, without the neighbor’s consent, and is attached to the Rear Property Owner’s property.
On appeal the neighbor attempted to argue that the request for a prescriptive easement was really a request for a public easement. The neighbor hoped to show that if the easement was a public easement it required a written dedication of their land for the access. Because the neighbor had not signed any written dedication there could be no easement. The neighbor could then keep the fence up that impaired the Rear Property Owner’s access to the dunes. The court of appeals disagreed.
The Court found that the access rights granted to the Rear Property Owner and their invitees through Airbnb were not public. This easement was not one that anyone could use or gain access to. It was not a public easement, and it was not open to the public. As a result, the court upheld the trial court’s findings on prescriptive easement rights awarded to the Rear Property Owner.
This case illustrates why neighbor access should be monitored to prevent the creation of easement rights. While not the subject of this case or article, there are neighborly tools available to prevent the creation of prescriptive easement rights.