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Real Property — Easements – ‘Open’ – Fencing for Horses – Unreasonable Interference

Since defendants’ easement over plaintiffs’ property does not require that the easement remain “open,” plaintiffs are entitled to erect a gate on the easement if a gate is necessary to the reasonable enjoyment of plaintiffs’ servient estate, provided the gate is not of such nature as to materially impair or unreasonably interfere with defendants’ use of the easement. The gates plaintiffs erected across the easement are an integral component of the fencing system necessary to contain the horses on their agricultural land; however, the gates, as constructed by plaintiffs, constituted an unreasonable obstruction. The key boxes were located well off the road, plaintiffs refused to provide defendants a remote control, the keypads were temperamental, the gates would sometimes not function in cold weather, and plaintiffs’ horses sometimes congregated around the gates, making it difficult for defendants to open the gates while keeping the horses from escaping.

As a result, the trial court did not err in ordering plaintiffs to remove the gates. However, the trial court did err when it ruled that plaintiffs were barred from installing gates across the easement.

Plaintiffs have the right to erect gates across the easement; however, the gates cannot be erected in a way that interferes with defendants’ easement rights.

We affirm the trial court’s order as modified.

Taylor v. Hiatt (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-190-21, 8 pp.) (Chris Dillon, J.) Appealed from Alamance County Superior Court (Thomas Lambeth, J.) Geoffrey Oertel for plaintiffs; Timothy Gray for defendants. 2021-NCCOA-502

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