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A Blog about Real Estate, How it Can Be Damaged, and Disputes Over its Transfer

This blog is a personal blog written to discuss legal issues affecting Georgia property, and how it is damaged, transferred, and fought over. I write this partly to keep abreast of the law, and partly to offer a forum for my writing. In order to find content, I often analyze Georgia Supreme Court decisions. I try to update this blog as I can, but writing is a time consuming process.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Width of a Street Created by Plat May Depend on the Needed Width

The width of an easement shown on a subdivision plat may be limited to the width needed for the actual use.  In Goodson v. Ford, the Georgia Supreme Court issued an opinion authored by Justice Nahmias on March 5, 2012 in which it reviewed facts presented by a special master report in a quiet title action.  Goodson v. Ford, Case No. S11A1740 (Ga., March 5, 2012).  

In Goodson, supra, the plaintiffs, the Fords, bought 39 acres of property in Lee County, Georgia with a grass strip through it that led to the Goodsons' driveway, which terminated in the strip.  The Goodson operated a daylily business.  Both the Goodsons and their neighbors the Ellers used the strip for access.  The Goodsons apparently enjoyed a main easement access to the business from another location as the facts in the case indicated the grass strip was used to service dumpsters and for occasional use by customers.  The access was originally shown as "Carol Street" on an old subdivision plat in the chain of title for the Goodsons.  The subdivision plat showed the width of the access at 60 feet.

After they bought their 39 acres, the Fords filed a quiet title action to terminate use of the strip.   They contended that the subdivision plat had been revoked in the deed records by the original subdivider prior to the time that the Goodsons had bought their land. In response, the Goodsons claimed that the original subdivider had already sold their land to the Goodsons' predecessor in title before the subdivider revoked the plat.  The original subdivider had no title to revoke once he parted with its interest in the street.  The Goodsons also claimed that the street was 60 feet wide -- as shown on the recorded plat.

The court held that neither party was entirely correct in their contentions.  In giving the Goodsons their access, it reviewed the cases regarding creating a street by recording a subdivision plat and noted that once the subdivider subdivided the original tract and sold a lot to the Goodsons' predecessor in title, the subdivider established an easement -- "Carol Street" on the plat -- that ran across the land that the Fords later bought with the grass strip.  The subdivider could not have taken back the easement once it recorded the plat and started selling lots with the easement.

However, in noting that the character of the use in favor of the Goodsons was an easement, and not legal title to the right of way, the court relied on another principle of law and limited the easement to 20 feet in width.  The court noted that an easement is in fact presumed to be as wide as shown on the recorded plat.  However, a party challenging the width can rebut the presumption with a factual showing that enjoyment of the easement does not require the width shown.  Accordingly, the court found that Carol Street was only as wide as needed for its reasonable use and enjoyment, and limited the Goodsons' street access to 20 feet.

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