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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Altius non tollendi

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“There are limitations upon the right of ownership, which include general limitations…limitations of legal servitudes or easements, limitations by contract or will, limitations imposed by the owner himself… and limitations of the Constitution and law”

Ownership is defined “as the independent right of exclusive enjoyment and control of a thing for the purpose of deriving therefrom all the advantages required by the reasonable needs of the owner and the promotion of the general welfare but subject to the restrictions imposed by law and the rights of others” (Outline of Civil Law, Reyes and Puno, Volume 2).

The traditional attributes of ownership are: (a) the right to enjoy, which includes the right to use, enjoy, and consume; (b) the right to dispose, and the right to alienate, encumber, transform, or even to destroy the property; and (c) the right to vindicate, or the right of action to recover the property against the holder or possessor (Jurado, 1989, Civil Law Reviewer citing Article 428, Civil Code).

However, there are limitations upon the right of ownership, which include general limitations (eminent domain, police power, and the power of taxation), limitations of legal servitudes or easements, limitations by contract or will, limitations imposed by the owner himself (mortgages, pledges, and lease of rights), and limitations of the Constitution and law (Tolentino, Civil Code).

A servitude or easement is an encumbrance imposed upon an immovable for the benefit of another immovable belonging to a different owner.

The immovable in favor of which the easement is established is called the dominant estate; that which is subject thereto, the servient estate (Spouses Garcia v. Santos, G.R. No. 228334, June 17, 2019, citing Article 613, Civil Code).

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“[E]asement is ‘a real right on another’s property, corporeal and immovable, whereby the owner of the latter must refrain from doing or allowing somebody else to do or something to be done on his property, for the benefit of another person or tenement. Easements are established either by law or by the will of the owner…’” (G.R. 228334, June 17, 2019).

“Legal easements are ones imposed by law…, as opposed to voluntary easements that are established by the agreements of the parties. The… easement of light and view refers to an easement whereby the dominant estate enjoys the right to have free access to light, a little air, and a view overlooking the adjoining estate, i.e., the servient estate” (G.R. 228334, June 17, 2019).

“The easement of light and view has two components. The easement of light… has the purpose of admitting light and a little air, as in the case of small windows, not more than 30 centimeters square, at the height of the ceiling joists or immediately under the ceiling. On the other hand, the easement of view… has the principal purpose of affording view, as in the case of full or regular windows overlooking the adjoining estate” (G.R. 228334, June 17, 2019).

“As held by jurisprudence, the easement of light and view is intrinsically intertwined with the easement of the servient estate not to build higher or altius non tollendi. These two necessarily go together ‘because an easement of light and view requires that the owner of the servient estate shall not build to a height that will obstruct the window’” (G.R. 228334, June 17, 2019).

In the case of Spouses Garcia v. Santos, the former asserted that since they have acquired by title an easement of light and view, the owner of the adjacent servient estate, i.e., the Spouses Santos, is proscribed from building a structure that obstructs the window of their one-story house.

Incidentally, the property of Spouses Garcia was formerly owned by Spouses Santos (G.R. 228334, June 17, 2019).

Easements may be classified into positive and negative easements.

A positive easement is one which imposes upon the owner of the servient estate the obligation of allowing something to be done or of doing it himself.

On the other hand, a negative easement is that which prohibits the owner of the servient estate from doing something which he could lawfully do if the easement did not exist (G.R. 228334, June 17, 2019 citing Article 616, Civil Code).

What is the significance of determining whether an easement is positive or negative? It is important to determine how an easement is acquired.

“[T]o acquire easements by prescription in positive easements, the prescriptive period shall commence from the day on which the owner of the dominant estate, or the person who may have made use of the easement, commenced to exercise it upon the servient estate” (G.R. 228334, June 17, 2019 citing Article 621, Civil Code).

With respect to negative easements, the prescriptive period shall commence from the day on which the owner of the dominant estate forbade, by an instrument acknowledged before a notary public, the owner of the servient estate from executing an act which would be lawful without the easement (G.R. 228334, June 17, 2019).

“[A]rticle 668 of the Civil Code… states that the period of prescription for the acquisition of an easement of light and view shall be counted: (1) from the time of the opening of the window, if it is through a party wall; or (2) from the time of the formal prohibition upon the proprietor of the adjoining land or tenement, if the window is through a wall on the dominant estate” (G.R. No. 228334, June 17, 2019).

“As a general rule, an easement of light and view is a positive one if the window or opening is situated in a party wall, while it is a negative one if the window or opening is thru one’s own wall, i.e., thru a wall of the dominant estate. However, ‘[e]ven if the window is on one’s own wall, still the easement would be positive if the window is on a balcony or projection extending over into the adjoining land’” (G.R. 228334, June 17, 2019).

Aside from prescription, easements may likewise be acquired through title. The term “title” does not necessarily mean a document.

Instead, it refers to a juridical act or law sufficient to create the encumbrance. One such legal proviso which grants title to an easement is found in Article 624, which states:

x x x. The existence of an apparent sign of easement between two estates, established or maintained by the owner of both, shall be considered, should either of them be alienated, as a title in order that the easement may continue actively and passively, unless, at the time the ownership of the two estates is divided, the contrary should be provided in the title of conveyance of either of them, or the sign aforesaid should be removed before the execution of the deed. This provision shall also apply in case of the division of a thing owned in common by two or more persons (G.R. 228334, June 17, 2019).

In the Spouses Garcia case, prior to the purchase of the property by Spouses Garcia in 1998, the subject property and its adjoining lot, i.e., Lot 1, were both owned by Spouses Santos.

The subject one-story property was laden with several windows and openings which remained open when it was alienated to Spouses Garcia, and while the Spouses Santos retained ownership of the adjoining Lot 1 (G.R. 228334, June 17, 2019).

“Jurisprudence has recognized that Article 624 is an exception carved out by the Civil Code that must be taken out of the coverage of the general rule that an easement of light and view in the case of windows opened in one’s own wall is a negative easement that may only be acquired by prescription, tacked from a formal prohibition relayed to the owner of the servient estate” (G.R. 228334, June 17, 2019).

“Hence, in accordance with Article 624 of the Civil Code, from the time the [Spouses] Santos transferred the subject property to the [Spouses] Garcia, there arose by title an easement of light and view, placing a burden on the servient estate, i.e., Lot 1, to allow the [Spouses] Garcia’s residence unobstructed access to light and view…” (G.R. 228334, June 17, 2019).

Because the windows of Spouses Garcia have a direct view of the adjoining property which was acquired by title, the adjoining property must comply with the distance of three-meters from the boundary (dividing) line (Article 673, Civil Code).

This is unlike direct view windows under Article 670 which only require a distance of two meters between the wall where they are made and the contiguous property (G.R. No. 228334, June 17, 2019).

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