Appeals court upholds prescriptive easement allowing access to path leading to MacKerricher State Park

By Takesha Thomas | Jan 30, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO – California's First District Court of Appeal recently affirmed a Mendocino County Superior Court ruling that granted a homeowner, who also rents the property on Airbnb, access to a path that runs along a neighbor's property line and leads MacKerricher State Park. 

The appeals court, in its Jan. 24 opinion, affirmed the ruling that granted Jason and Lauren Ditzian a prescriptive easement allowing them and their invitees, including Airbnb guests, to use the path on property owned by Steve Unger.

Unger appealed the decision, arguing that "the prescriptive easement granted by the trial court is effectively a public easement prohibited by Section 1009," court filings said. Because the property owners used their properties for recreational purposes, Unger argued that Section 1009 prohibited the creation of a prescriptive easement. 

The Ditzians sued Unge in June 2016 after he erected a fence that blocked access to sand dunes that were accessed along the property line path. According to the filing, the sand dunes of MacKerricher State Park lie behind the parcels and were historically accessed via a path that runs along the parties’ property line, crosses Unger's property, and then crosses the parcel of another neighbor. The Ditzians who also rent their home on Airbnb, allow for access to the state park. 

Attorneys for Unger had argued that the easement should not have been granted because the Ditzians had received a prior citation in September 2016 by the Mendocino County Department of Planning and Building Services for not having a permit to have paying overnight guests at their property. Additionally, he claimed that the Ditzians "illegally hosted numerous Airbnb guests before applying for a vacation rental permit in October 2016." 

However, the appeals court said that the Ditzians "failure to obtain a permit before hosting Airbnb guests is not directly connected with the prescriptive easement claim, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in rejecting the unclean hands defense."

Unger also argued that “the trial court erred in interpreting evidence of the (respondents’) own ‘personal’ use of the footpath as proof establishing prescriptive rights for their paying guests.” 

The suit claims that the Ditzian's began hosting vacation rentals in July 2015 and had at least 146 separate Airbnb reservations by the time of the September 2017 trial, court filings said. In October 2015, Unger erected a fence that blocked access to the dunes. 

The trial court had granted the prescriptive easement to the Ditzians in September 2017. 

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