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A license gives authority to a licensee to perform an act or acts on the property of another pursuant to the express or implied permission of the owner. A licensor generally can revoke a license at any time without excuse or without consideration to the licensee. In addition, a conveyance of the property burdened with a license revokes the license. However, a license may become irrevocable when a landowner knowingly permits another to repeatedly perform acts on his or her land, and the licensee, in reasonable reliance on the continuation of the license, has expended time and a substantial amount of money on improvements with the licensor's knowledge. Under such circumstances, it would be inequitable to terminate the license. In that case, the licensor is said to be estopped from revoking the license, and the license becomes the equivalent of an easement, commensurate in its extent and duration with the right to be enjoyed.
In order to access their home in Novato, California, James Scott Richardson and Lisa Donetti (respondents) had to traverse land belonging to their neighbors, Greg and Terrie Franc (appellants) on a 150-foot long road which was authorized by an easement for “access and public utility purposes.” Over a 20-year period, both respondents and their predecessors in interest maintained landscaping, irrigation, and lighting appurtenant to both sides of the road within the easement area without any objection. Six years after purchasing the property burdened by the easement, appellants demanded that respondents remove the landscaping, irrigation, and lighting. They stated that respondents' rights in the easement area were expressly limited to access and utility purposes, and the landscaping and other improvements exceeded the purpose for which the easement was granted. Respondents brought the present lawsuit seeking, among other things, to establish their right to an irrevocable license which would grant them an uninterrupted right to continue to maintain the landscaping and other improvements. The trial court ruled that it would be inequitable to deny respondents an irrevocable license given their substantial investment of time and money on the landscaping and other improvements and appellants' years of acquiescence. Appellants challenged the decision, arguing that the evidence did not support the granting of an irrevocable license.
Under the circumstances, should the respondents be granted an irrevocable license to maintain the landscaping and other improvements, notwithstanding the fact that the respondents’ rights in the easement area were limited to access and utility purposes?
The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s decision, holding that although the trial court found that the easement holders did not meet the requirements for an equitable easement regarding their landscaping, irrigation, and lighting because they knew that these improvements exceeded the purpose for which the access easement was granted, such knowledge did not preclude an irrevocable parol license; thus, the trial court's findings in granting an irrevocable license were not contradictory. An express grant of permission to undertake the improvements was not required because long-term acquiescence was sufficient to find implied permission. The evidence supported a finding of substantial expenditures to maintain the improvements. The trial court properly exercised its equitable discretion in making the license irrevocable and defining the license to include improvements within the entire easement area.