December 12, 2023 — Friday, the Utah Court of Appeals upheld a homeowner’s right to make improvements on his property, despite it being part of an easement for the Metropolitan Water District of Salt Lake and Sandy. The conflict began when the homeowner, whose backyard falls within a 125-foot easement, made several additions including a shed, hot tub, deck, and landscaping.
The Water District claimed these additions violated their easement regulations and hindered their pipeline maintenance. They insisted that the homeowner should have sought permission before making these changes. However, a jury found that these improvements did not significantly impede the District’s easement use.
The District appealed, contesting the jury instructions, the jury’s decision and the testimony of an engineer who supported the homeowner. They also proposed a strict legal rule, suggesting any permanent structure within an easement should be automatically deemed unreasonable.
Judge Ryan Harris, writing for the court, disagreed with this rigid approach, highlighting the importance of “mutual reasonableness” in easement law. He noted that such a strict rule would unjustly restrict reasonable land use. The court also confirmed the jury’s verdict, stating that the outcome would likely be the same even if the cumulative impact of the improvements was considered. The engineer’s testimony was deemed acceptable, countering the District’s view that “reasonableness” should only apply to the homeowner’s actions.
Read the decision here: Metropolitan Water District v. Sorf (2023 UT App 146).