by Gary Taylor
113th Avenue Road Fund Assn. v. I & R Properties, Inc.
(Iowa Court of Appeals, November 9, 2011)
Plaintiff 113th Avenue Road Fund Association (the association) is a voluntary, unincorporated group of lot owners in a subdivision called BJ Mahoney‟s Second Subdivision in Scott County. Plaintiff Sandra K. Moore is the former association president and owns Lot 1 in the subdivision.The defendant, I & R Properties, Inc. (I & R), owns lots 13, 14, and 15 in the subdivision and operates a trailer park—the Lake Canyada Mobile Home Park—“partially on, and adjacent to, the subdivision.” (although I & R denied owning the lots and affirmatively stated that Lake Canyada L.L.C. is the record title holder of the property. The district court observed, “the legal relationship between I & R Properties and Lake Canyada is not clear. . . . [but] I & R Properties is at least the resident manager and authorized agent of Lake Canyada L.L.C.”).
I & R and Lake Canyada use residential buildings on lots 13 and 14, located on 113th Avenue, as an office for the mobile home park and as a residence for the park‟s manager. Several mobile home residents use 113th Avenue as their ingress and egress to their mobile homes. In addition, I & R cut a roadway through lot 15, which connects with 113th Avenue. The crude roadway provides the occupants of approximately 235 trailer lots with a shortcut to 113th Avenue so that they may access Lake Canyada’s business office. The sixty-six-foot-wide roadway was first recorded in a 1948 plat of the B.J. Mahoney‟s Second Subdivision, and the Mahoneys recorded an affidavit in 1964 reaffirming their dedication of the roadway for the use of “all of the owners of lots” in the 1948 plat. On June 30, 1986, the owners of the land adjoining the road signed an agreement for continued maintenance and access to and from their properties. That agreement stated that 113th Avenue is designated “as a private road for residential use for all owners and residents of the Lots in said Auditor’s Plat of B.J. Mahoney’s Subdivision and B.J. Mahoney’s 2nd Subdivision. The owners of the following adjoining lots to the described road state that each party has the right to use the described road for residential use to Ingress and Regress.” In 1986, Dean Harding managed Hawkeye Real Estate Investments and signed the agreement for Lots 13, 14, and 15. Over the years, several disagreements arose between trailer park management and subdivision landowners concerning the meaning of the agreement, and the use and maintenance of 113th Avenue. The latest disagreement resulted in this lawsuit over the interpretation of the agreement. The district court ruled that I & R could not use lots 13, 14, and 15 for commercial purposes, and that the association could erect blockades to prevent trailer park residents from using 113th Avenue. I & R appealed.
The parties agreed that the district court went beyond the scope of pleadings in restricting the use of lots 13, 14, and 15. However, they still disagreed about the scope of the 1986 agreement concerning use of the road. I & R recognizes the 1986 agreement referenced “residential use” of the road, but argued that phrase “cannot fairly be construed to ban traffic related to the operation of the park as a place where persons reside. The Court of Appeals disagreed. The testimony about 113th Avenue reveals that the lots adjoining the private road were held and used by about twenty people for their own residences in 1986, as opposed to any commercial or business endeavors. The notion that more than two-hundred occupants of mobile homes may use I & R’s easement to transact business at the manager’s office and to gain a quicker connection to a public road was not contemplated by the lot owners who signed the 1986 agreement for access and maintenance of the private road. The agreement did not contemplate that I & R could open the private road to hundreds of customers who rented trailer lots from the company. That commercial use of the road by non-residents has created an unintended burden on common holders of the easement. The agreement’s reference to proportional responsibility for the maintenance costs also supports the conclusion that the signatories did not anticipate opening 113th Avenue to non-residents who would benefit from their use of the private road without contributing to its upkeep.
The Court of Appeals found that I & R violated the 1986 agreement by allowing the different type of use of 113th Avenue by their tenants. It affirmed the district court’s declaration that I & R’s roadway on Lot 15 should be closed to through traffic to 113th Avenue, the north end of 113th Avenue should be closed to access from the mobile home park, and I & R should be prohibited from interfering with the association’s enforcement of the agreement.