A license grants an individual the legal right to use a property owner’s property.
Typically, the license is for a specific purpose. License use can either be exclusive, whereby only one party holds it, or nonexclusive that grants multiple users a license to use the land. The particular use granted by a license is dependent on the terms established by the property owner.
A license differs from an easement in several ways:
The user cannot transfer the license to another party
The user cannot establish ownership rights through adverse possession
The property owner has the right to terminate a license at anytime, and is not subject to the preferences of the user
Purpose of License (To Use Land)
During the duration of the license, the property owner can alter any aspect of the agreement. The property owner may also suspend or revoke a license at his or her discretion. One exception to this is when a licensee used his or her own labor and/or capital to retain a profit. A property owner cannot suspend a license with the intent of retaining the benefits of a licensee’s labor or capital. Licenses are typically added to an extended contract. It is advised that the terms of the license be written.
Property owners may be held liable for injuries and/or damages inflicted upon a user as a result of a property’s condition. Therefore, a property owner should verify the safety of the property prior to granting a license.
While a lease transfers an interest in property, a license to use land only transfers the right to use the land for a specific purpose. A license is personal in nature, therefore the right to license cannot be transferred to anyone else. Unlike an easement, a license does not transfer an interest to the easement holder through title.
Licenses are commonly found within various agreements. To avoid disputes, it is advised that licenses to use land be drafted in a separate agreement.
Case Law Relating to License
Case Review: Cooke v. Ramponi (1952)
The case, Cooke v. Ramponi (1952) 38 Cal.2d 282., involved a licensee and licenser dispute regarding an easement on a roadway.
A property owner (Cooke) had an oral agreement with his neighbor (Foster) regarding a roadway on Foster’s property. The terms of the agreement were that Cooke could use a portion of the roadway and be responsible for two-thirds of the maintenance costs. Conversely, Foster was responsible for one-third of the costs and still had the right to use the land. Based on this arrangement, Cooke began improving the land. This included clearing the land, straightening the road, and building a nine bedroom house and a cabin.
Years alter, Foster sold his property to a buyer (Ramponi). Cooke approached Ramponi about continuing the previous agreement Cooke had with Foster. Ramboni refused to bear any costs associated with maintaining the road, but told Cooke he could continue using the roadway. Shortly thereafter, however, Ramponi barricaded the roadway and told Cooke that the road was his property and Cooke could no longer use it.
Cooke sued. Ramponi filed a cross complaint, seeking a declaration of his exclusive right to the road and damages of $5,000.
The Superior Court denied this request and ruled in favor of Cooke. It indicated that Cooke had an irrevocable license to use the roadway for entering and exiting. Therefore, Ramponi could not block Cooke’s access.