As development increases throughout Rhode Island, and the density of commercial and other development increases, conflicts and disputes can arise over access to businesses and parking. To ensure that existing buildings can maintain public access after new construction, municipalities, property owners and developers will issue easements to existing property owners, guaranteeing the use of the land for access and parking. Easements are supposed to be spelled out clearly and unambiguously in any contract that establishes an easement. In practice, this is not always the case. The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently addressed a conflict between parties over an easement that was not spelled out clearly and unambiguously.
The plaintiff in the recently decided case is a tenant and operator of a medical facility that borders a development owned by the defendant in North Smithfield, RI. Until last year, the plaintiff’s property was accessible from two sides, and the plaintiff believed that they owned easements guaranteeing the two accesses to their facility. The defendant, who had recently purchased the property from another owner, didn’t want the plaintiff’s patients using one the access from the defendant’s property, and they constructed a median to block the access.
The plaintiff sues the defendant in state court, attempting to enforce a 2005 easement that would guarantee the plaintiff access to their business from the defendant’s property. The defendant responded that the 2005 easement did not prevent them from constructing the median. The defendant maintained that the plaintiff’s property was still accessible through the other entrance and that they had the right to build the median. After reviewing the contracts and evaluating the case, the court ruled that the easement language contained in the initial contracts was too unclear to render judgment at this time. Because the language of the easement is ambiguous, and the intent of the pirates cannot be presently ascertained with existing evidence, the case will need to proceed to trial before either party gets the relief they desire.