Easement Law: Can A Landowner Use Video Surveillance To Enforce an Easement?

 

Maine landowners often deal with others crossing their property.  Much of the time, those others have a legal right to do so, stemming from granted easement rights that spell out where, when and how they can exercise those crossing rights.  In general, a landowner over whose land a easement runs has the right to use the land in any manner that does not interfere with the rights of the easement holders.  This is a long standing tenet of property law.

In a case of first impression in Maine, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court was asked to determine if stationary video surveillance unreasonably interfered with the right to cross another’s land.  In Flaherty v. Muther, 2013 ME 39, 65 A.3d 1209 (decided April 2, 2013) owners in a subdivision sued another lot owner after she installed security cameras along a gated walking path used for beach access.  The lot owners all had granted easement rights to use the walking path and alleged that the video surveillance unreasonably interfered with those granted rights.

The Court held that the unobtrusive and stationary video cameras did not in any way impair or interfere with the right of beach access which had been guaranteed to the subdivision lot owners.  Noting that video surveillance is increasingly common in modern society, where citizens have come to expect the possibility that anything they do outside of their home may be recorded, the Court stated that a landowner may engage in reasonable measures to provide security and surveillance of any part of their property and may monitor the use of an easement to assure that it is not overburdened or used by unauthorized individuals.

The Court seemed to limit their discussion to stationary video recordings.  Non stationary forms of video surveillance, say from aerial drones, could have resulted in a different result for the landowner.  The myriad of privacy concerns that can arise by the use of drones, or unmanned aircraft systems (UASs), will undoubtedly result in more cases of first impression.

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