Shoen v. Zacarias

Facts: A property owner renovates an area outside their property line. The owner’s neighbor, on discovering the encroachment, verbally gives the owner license to continue using the area for as long as the neighbor owns their property. The neighbor sells their property.

Claim: The new neighbor seeks possession of the area occupied by the owner, claiming the owner is trespassing since the new neighbor is not bound by an agreement with the prior neighbor.

Counterclaim: The owner seeks to retain the use of the disputed area, claiming they have an irrevocable license to use the area since the owner had extensively renovated the disputed area and continued to use it with the previous neighbor’s consent.

Holding:  A California appeals court holds the owner needs to vacate the disputed area since the owner did not renovate the area extensively enough to warrant an irrevocable license, and the new neighbor may not be bound by an agreement with the previous neighbor. [Shoen v. Zacarias (April 4, 2019)­_CA6th_]

Read the case text.

Editor’s note — The central question here is of how extensive the property owner’s renovations would have needed to be to justify the granting of an irrevocable license. While the court made no hard and fast determination on, say, a threshold dollar amount a property owner would have to spend on an encroachment to warrant an irrevocable license, the court’s ruling also rests on the fact that many of the owner’s expenses took place before their original neighbor gave the owner license to use the area, as well as the fact that the owner incorrectly calculated their ongoing expenses needed to maintain the disputed area.

Although the court offered no broad ruling on what would have made the owner’s renovations extensive enough for an irrevocable license, it did take into consideration both the dollar amount spent on installation and maintenance of the renovations, as well as the period of time the owner had license from their neighbor for use of the property.