In my last post, I discussed the difference between licenses and easements. However, as discussed below, in certain situations, a license can give a licensee rights similar to an easement.
In most cases, in light of its nature, a license is revocable. However, in some circumstances, a license may become irrevocable.
An irrevocable license is an outlier in its similarity to an easement. But, an irrevocable license is not created with the formalities required to create an easement. And, irrevocable does not necessarily mean permanent. Accordingly, even an irrevocable easement is not a permanent right to use another’s property – it is limited in its use by the nature of the license. (Golden West Baseball Co. v. City of Anaheim (1994) 25 Cal.App.4th 11, 36.) Indeed, after the objectives of the license have been satisfied, it again becomes revocable. (Bryant v. Marstelle (1946) 76 Cal.App.2d 740.)
A license becomes irrevocable when it is coupled with an interest in the property for as long as the licensee retains that interest. (Bomberger v. McKelvey (1950) 35 Cal.2d 607, 618.) A license can also become irrevocable where, in reasonable reliance on the license, the licensee expends time and a substantial amount of money on improvements. (Cooke v. Ramponi (1952) 38 Cal.2d 282, 286.) However, the licensor must have knowledge of that the licensee is expending substantial time and money based on the license. (Id.) Accordingly, for a license to become irrevocable, it is necessary that the license be given expressly by the licensor. If the license is not given expressly, the license must be exercised with the licensor’s knowledge and under such circumstances as would prompt a reasonable person to object. This is based on the equitable principles of estoppel and to prevent the licensor from committing fraud on the licensee. (Id.)
Once a license is determined to be irrevocable, it is treated, for most purposes, as an easement and is enforceable by a successor of the licensee against a successor of the licensor. (Richardson v. Franc (2015) 233 Cal.App.4th 744, 755.) Indeed, the owner of an irrevocable license has a sufficient possessory interest to maintain a quiet title action even though his or her interest is less than fee title. (Id.)