The laws that impact real estate and land in Florida are constantly evolving. Sometimes, the state achieves these changes with the passage of new laws and regulations. Other times, through cases that work their way through the court system in the state. As they work their way up the court hierarchy, the holdings can guide similar issues throughout the state.
In a recent example, the Florida Court of Appeals was able to provide some clarity when it comes to use of easements. The dispute involved a nonexclusive easement between two property owners: Blue Lagoon Condominium Association and Weiss Property. Blue Lagoon relies on this easement, established in 1986, to enter the property. The following timeline shows the progression of the legal issue.
- 1986. Easement established.
- 1993. Blue Lagoon Condominium Association sold to Blue Lagoon Airport Club Apartments.
- 1997. Airport Club files for injunctive relief against Weiss Property because Weiss Property allegedly blocked the accessway with rocks and soil. Parties agree to permanent injunction which prohibits Weiss from interfering with access to the property.
- 2005. Blue Lagoon Condominium Association takes place of Airport Club as owner.
- 2017. Weiss moves forward with plans to build a condominium complex.
- 2018. Association seeks declaratory relief against Weiss, arguing the increase in traffic due to the condo complex constitutes interference with access to the property.
- 2020. Trial court rules in favor of Association stating interference is not fully defined in easement and so uses a dictionary definition in its analysis finding any act that could obstruct normal operations and provide a hindrance could qualify as a violation. Thus, based on this reasoning, increased traffic qualified as a violation.
Weis appealed this holding and took her case to the Florida Court of Appeals. Here, the appeals court states the trial court erred when relying on a dictionary definition of the term “interfering.” Instead, the appeals court states the parties should rely on the context of the Agreed Permanent Injunction to guide the meaning of this term. In so doing, the court discusses language within the easement about removing structures, fences, and other physical obstacles. Thus, the appellate court finds the term interference does not mean any hinderance but actual obstructions.
This holding can provide guidance for those who have similar disputes with easements. It also highlights the importance of carefully tailoring real estate documents to each specific situation. As shown in this case, whether or not you win a real estate dispute can hinge on the definition of a single word within the agreement.