Decision: Stroda v. Joice Holdings

May 15th. The Kansas Supreme Court has issued its opinion in Stroda v. Joice Holdings (No. 100,733) a property dispute. In a unanimous opinion, written by Justice Nuss, the Court held that an implied easement that existed on the property in the case was not limited to agricultural purposes by its prior use and could be used for residential access. The Court also held that an easement for residential access can generally be used for providing utilities to a residence. Note: This case was argued after Chief Justice McFarland’s retirement and before her successor took up office. Her place was taken by District Judge Daniel Love.

In the 1950s Lawrence and Etta Stroda bought a parcel of Douglas County land which was not connected to a road. At this time they used a residence on the land. They accessed it via an easement across a neighbouring tract. Subsequently, they bought that tract and the easement was extinguished. By the 1980s no-one lived on the land though the old residence remained. The land was divided back into two the parcels by Etta Stroda’s will and both parties used the land agriculturally, an implied easement to the landlocked portion again existing. In 2006 the landlocked portion was owned by Ed Stroda and the other portion by Joice Holdings LLC. Stroda sought to sell his plot for use as a single residence. Joice Holdings sued, arguing that the the easement was limited to agricultural uses, and that even if it could allow residential access it could not be expanded to utilities. The District Court issued summary judgement to Stroda holding that the implied easement did confer residential access. After a bench trial the Court held that under the circumstances (that utilities could be supplied underground within the existing size of the easement) the easement could also be used to supply the house with utilities.

The Kansas Supreme Court affirmed the District Court on both arguments. An implied easement is one which does not exist because of any written agreement between parties but which arises because of the circumstances of the property – e.g. a landlocked parcel will have some form of right of access across a neighboring property. The Court noted that unlike an easement which is expressly agreed between two parties and written down an implied easement is more flexible and generally based upon what would have been assumed to be its  purpose at the time of creation. Joice Holdings argued that this limited it to agricultural use but the Court held that in this case it was clear that residential use was contemplated. The Court noted that the ruins of the old house remained on the landlocked parcel and also looked at precedent from other states which emphasized that implied easements are not as prescriptive of usage.

In the second part of its ruling, the Kansas Supreme Court held that a right of residential access under an implied easement could also apply to utilities. In a ruling which will gladden the hearts of property developers (but which perhaps does not take note of technologies offering more self-sufficient sources heat and light), the Court found that providing utilities passed the necessity test needed to establish an easement.

“In our view, a lack of utilities to a new house in Kansas goes beyond mere inconvenience and begins to approach the unlivable. A house generally is not considered to be a residence without water, electricity, and similar utilities, e.g., the ability to be heated and cooled, lit in the dark, and equipped for communication with the outside world.”

The second part of the test is whether such access would be reasonable. Based on the findings of the District Court that the utilities could be provided with limited impact on Joice Holdings’ property, the Court held that the easement could be used to provide the utilities.

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