G.R. No. 227917, March 17, 2021
The Fernandez Spouses once owned five contiguous parcels of land in Dagupan City. Two of their properties were located in front of their three other properties. These two front properties provided the other properties sole access to the national highway. In 1980, the Fernandez Spouses annotated on the transfer certificates of title of the front properties an easement of right of way in favor of the back properties. The Fernandez Spouses later obtained a loan from the Philippine National Bank and mortgaged the front properties. When they failed to pay their loan, the bank foreclosed and eventually acquired the front properties. Later on, Spouses Delfin purchased the front properties. The Delfin Spouses refused to recognize the annotated right of way, enclosing the properties to prevent the Fernandez Spouses from accessing the national highway through the front properties.
Fernandez Spouses filed before the Regional Trial Court a Complaint for specific performance, right of way, and damages, arguing that they were entitled to use the right of way to access the national highway.
Delfin Spouses countered that they acted within their rights as the properties’ owners. They claimed that despite the annotations, the right of way was invalid as it was constituted by the Fernandez Spouses for their own sake. They alleged that the easement had already been extinguished when the Philippine National Bank acquired the properties after foreclosure. Besides, they said, the Fernandez Spouses had other ways to access the national highway. They added that they were willing to grant a right of way if they would be indemnified.
Whether or not a valid easement of right of way was constituted on the front properties formerly owned by the Spouses
YES. An easement of right of way in favor of petitioners was validly constituted.
An easement is an encumbrance on a property for the benefit of another property owned by another. It involves a grant to use a portion or aspect of the property, without relinquishing ownership or possession over it. The property on which the easement is imposed, and which will be used by the other, is called the servient estate. The property to which the use is granted is the dominant estate. In an easement of right of way, there is a portion of the servient estate dedicated to the passage of the dominant estate’s owner. It is thus a discontinuous easement, used only in intervals and depending on whether a person needs to pass through another person’s property. In Bogo-Medellin Milling Company, Inc. v. Court of Appeals:
Easements are either continuous or discontinuous according to the manner they are exercised. Thus, an easement is continuous if its use is, or may be, incessant without the intervention of any act of man, like the easement of drainage; and it is discontinuous if it is used at intervals and depends on the act of man, like the easement of right of way. The easement of right of way is considered discontinuous because it is exercised only if a person passes or sets foot on somebody else’s land. The presence of physical or visual signs only classifies an easement into apparent or non-apparent. Thus, a road (which reveals a right of way) and a window (which evidences a right to light and view) are apparent easements, while an easement of not building beyond a certain height is non-apparent.
An easement cannot be constituted if both the dominant estate and the servient estate is owned by only one person. In such an instance, the owner only exercises the right of dominion over their property. However, the easement is created when the property is divided when the ownership of either the dominant or servient estate is transferred to another.
Article 624 applies in case one person who owns two properties established an apparent sign of an easement between them. When the ownership of either property is transferred to another, the existence of the apparent sign of easement shall be considered as a title over an easement, unless the contrary is provided in the deed of transfer, or if the apparent sign is removed before the deed of transfer’s execution. The created easement is considered accepted and subsisting if no issues were raised against it or against the manner by which it is used. When the new owner made no stipulation contrary to the apparent easement, they are deemed to have acquiesced to its continuation. The easement becomes a burden they willingly accepted
In the case of Spouses Garcia v. Santos: The mode of acquiring an easement under Article 624 is a “legal presumption or apparent sign.” Article 624 finds application in situations wherein two or more estates were previously owned by a singular owner, or even a single estate but with two or more portions being owned by a singular owner. Originally, there is no true easement that exists as there is only one owner. Hence, at the outset, no other owner is imposed with a burden. Subsequently, one estate or a portion of the estate is alienated in favor of another person, wherein, in that estate or portion of the estate, an apparent visible sign of an easement exists. According to Article 624, there arises a title to an easement . . . , even in the absence of any formal act undertaken by the owner of the dominant estate, if this apparent visible sign,… continues to remain and subsist, unless, at the time the ownership of the two estates is divided, (1) the contrary should be provided in the title of conveyance of either of them, or (2) the sign aforesaid should be removed before the execution of the deed.
An easement need not be annotated on the title before it may be acknowledged to exist. Every buyer of a registered land who takes a certificate of title for value and in good faith shall hold the same free of all encumbrances except those noted on said certificate. It has been held, however, that “where the party has knowledge of a prior existing interest that was unregistered at the time he acquired a right to the same land, his knowledge of that prior unregistered interest has the effect of registration as to him.”
Similarly, Article 624 applies in this case. The front properties and the back properties were all previously owned by petitioners, who created an apparent sign of an easement on the front properties when: (1) they used a portion of the front properties to give the back properties access to the national highway; and (2) they had it annotated on the front properties’ titles as an easement of right of way in favor of the back properties. When the front properties were eventually transferred to the Philippine National Bank, the bank did not raise any qualms or stipulated against the easement of right of way or the annotations.57 Thus, when the front properties were sold, respondents’ titles bore the same annotations as those of petitioners
The respondents were aware of the easement as it was annotated on the Philippine National Bank’s titles and on the titles issued to them. They are thus presumed to have been informed that petitioners use a portion of the front properties to access the national highway. Yet, despite this knowledge, they still purchased the properties, with no showing that they made any manifest objection to it at the time of transfer.