Exclusive right to property may still be subject of legal easements

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Persida Acosta

Dear PAO,
I am an owner of a parcel of land in an exclusive village in Cavite. Estates beside my property (both left and right sides) are elevated higher so much so that my property becomes a water basin whenever it rains. Sometime in 2013, I started construction of my house not knowing the problems that lay ahead. It took me only about a week to realize that whenever it rains, water from both sides will gush into my property, and accumulate in my garage and first-floor living room. So, I consulted my architect and engineers to solve the problem, and they advised me to construct a party wall on both sides to keep the water out. Two of my neighbors confronted me because the wall I constructed had the effect of keeping the rainwater in their property.. Don’t I have the exclusive right to use my property as I please? Thank you.
Carleaux

Dear Carleaux,
It is true that absolute owners of a property have an exclusive right to the use, control and possession of one’s property. Such right, however, may still be the subject of legal easements as provided in our New Civil Code (NCC).

Legal easements are those specifically enumerated in the Title on Easements and have the effect of burdening one’s use, control and possession of a particular property, to wit:

“Art. 634. Easements imposed by law have for their object either public use or the interest of private persons. (549)


x x x x
Art. 636. Easements established by law in the interest of private persons or for private use shall be governed by the provisions of this Title, without prejudice to the provisions of general or local laws and ordinances for the general welfare.

These easements may be modified by agreement of the interested parties, whenever the law does not prohibit it or no injury is suffered by a third person. (551a)”

Pertinently, under Article 637 of the NCC, an owner of a lower estate is bound to receive waters, which naturally descend (like rainwater) from higher estates. Consequently, the owner of a lower estate is also bound not to construct works that can impede such natural flow or descent of water from the higher estates. Article 637 of the NCC provides thus:

“Art. 637. Lower estates are obliged to receive the waters which naturally and without the intervention of man descend from the higher estates, as well as the stones or earth which they carry with them.

The owner of the lower estate cannot construct works which will impede this easement; neither can the owner of the higher estate make works which will increase the burden.”

Taking cue from the foregoing, it is evident that your construction of the party wall constitutes as the works, which do impede the easement in favor of the higher estates. If there can be no structural solution to your rainwater problem, the law provides that you cannot retain that wall since it will violate your neighbors’ right to an easement for the flow of the rainwater. Dura lex sed lex. (The law may be harsh, but it is the law.)

We find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated. We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.

Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to dearpao@manilatimes.net.

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