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Somerville v. Jacobs

    Brief Fact Summary. A builder accidentally constructed an entire structure on neighboring land, which increased the value of the property on which it was built.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. When a person in good faith mistakenly improves the property of another, that person is entitled to the value of the improvements.

    Facts. The Somervilles believed they were erecting a building on their own property, but were actually constructing it on the Jacobs’ property. After the building was completed, the Jacobs learned the building was on their property and claimed ownership of it. The Somervilles then sought equitable relief for the value of the improvements.

    Issue. Can a court of equity award compensation to an improver who makes a good faith mistake of building on land that he does not own?

    Held. Yes. Judgment remanded for further proceedings.
    The improver reasonably believed that he owned the land and acted in good faith when he erected the building that increased the value of the other’s land. The owner of the land is deemed to be the owner of the building, but the improver is entitled to recover the value of the improvements from the landowner. Otherwise, the landowner would be unjustly enriched by the builder’s work.
    To enforce the improver’s claim, the building may be sold to make the payment.

    Dissent. The improver had a duty to determine that he was building on the correct lot and he made a mistake. Equity should not protect a person at fault. When a property owner is not at fault for having a building mistakenly constructed on his property, he should not be forced into purchasing the building.

    Discussion. In order to prevent unjust enrichment, a landowner will have to compensate an improver who, in good faith mistake, constructs a building on the landowner’s prop


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