Jul 4, 2019

Courts' "liberal" interpretation of the extent of easements

Berg v. Marks, 2018 ONCA 595 (CanLII)

Winnipeg, May 2019

Berg and Marks were adjacent property owners in New Tecumseth, Ontario. The two properties were separated by a laneway which was (privately) owned by Marks. Berg's property had an expressly created easement over the laneway which easement provided for ingress and egress to and from Berg's property. The wording in the easement was that Berg's property had an easement "in, over and upon" the laneway.

At the north end of the laneway was a catchbasin with a sewer pipe which connected the catchbasin to the municipal storm sewer system. Clearly, the catchbasin (and its connection to the storm sewer system) drained excess surface water from the laneway and adjacent properties. However, Marks decided that the catchbasin sewer cover / lid had not been installed safely and that consequently, it constituted a hazard. Marks had concrete poured over the catchbasin and this resulted in flooding to Berg's property (as well as the laneway). The question before the Court was whether or not the easement included the right to have the catchbasin maintained and operating for the benefit of Berg's property. The Court held that, based on precedent authority, an easement grant "…includes a grant of ancillary rights" which are reasonably necessary to the use and enjoyment of the easement which was contemplated by the grantor". Clearly, the easement, as expressed in the language of the grant, included the right of access along the laneway for the benefit of Berg's property, but it also, in the Court's view, included the following ancillary rights:

  1. the right to have the catchbasin exist and to function in the manner in which it was intended to function (ie, drain the laneway and the adjacent lands); and
  2. the right to use the laneway to make repairs to the side of the building on Berg's property.

The justification for the ancillary right to have the catchbasin maintained was simply that "A submerged laneway would make it impossible for the right of access (which was specifically set forth in the easement grant) to be exercised".

While the essence of this decision appears to be that, in the appropriate circumstances, Courts will expand the meaning of the express words in a grant of easement where the Court considers that such expansion is necessary in order for the grantee to be able to make reasonable use of the specified easement right(s), this writer cautions those attempting to draft easements not to rely overly upon the "generosity" of a future court decision. Where at all possible, drafters of easement agreements and grants should at least attempt to envisage the totality of the various elements of what is - and will be - required to be protected for the use and benefit of the grantee.