In the flashback scene at the end of “The Betrayal,” which shows when Kramer and Jerry first met, Jerry invites Kramer to share in some pizza by saying to Kramer “we’re neighbors. What’s mine is yours.” By telling Kramer this, did Jerry create a legally binding easement for Kramer to enter Jerry’s apartment whenever he wants? Additionally, did Jerry grant Kramer the legal right to take whatever he wants from Jerry’s apartment?
An easement is a fancy legal term that simply means that one person has the legal right to use another person’s land for a specific purpose. The most common example of this is when one landowner grants another landowner the right to walk across his land. When that arrangement is legally codified, it becomes what’s known as an easement. Here, when Jerry said “what’s mine is yours,” it is possible that Jerry was doing far more than just casually being neighborly to Kramer, he may have actually granted Kramer the legal right (“easement in gross” in this particular case) to come into his apartment (which would be called the “servient estate“) whenever he wants. Let’s investigate.
Easements can be created in a few different ways, but the most obvious creation method is by the landowner expressly granting permission to another individual to use the land. This means that an easement can be created by the owner of a property directly granting a right for another person to come onto that property. Here, Jerry does expressly say “what’s mine is yours,” to Kramer. Seems pretty simple that he granted Kramer an easement, right?
Not so fast, pretty boy. For starters, this type of general statement is unlikely to qualify as language constituting an easement. Even assuming it did, though, an express easement must still satisfy the Statute of Frauds. As we discussed in “The Puffy Shirt,” The Statute of Frauds is the legal requirement that certain kinds of contracts or other legal interests be written down in order for them to be binding upon the grantor, and according to New York Law, interests in real property fall under the requirements of the Statute of Frauds. Therefore, even though Jerry expressly said to Kramer “what’s mine is yours,” Jerry could pretty easily argue that this express expression is not legally binding as it is required to be memorialized in writing.
However, Kramer may still have an argument. An easement can also be formed by what’s know as easement by prescription (or by adverse possession), and Kramer could try to argue that he has fulfilled these requirements. This kind of easement is created when one person uses another person’s property as if it were their own for a long enough period of time. If done correctly, the law considers it to be that new person’s land. Legally, for Kramer to claim an easement under this argument, he would have to show that he has been using the easement (1) open and notoriously, (2) exclusively, and (3) under hostile conditions, (4) for the statutory period. In plain English, Kramer would need to have been using the easement out in the open for a certain period of time. In New York, the requirement is 10 years. Here, Kramer has been openly using Jerry’s apartment, and freely taking his things, as if it were his own, for many years, and continues to do so with Jerry’s full knowledge. So, does Kramer actually have an easement? “The Betrayal” tells us it was 11 years earlier that Jerry moved in to his apartment across from Kramer. “The Betrayal” aired on November 20, 1997, so if Jerry moved in on November 20, 1986 then the statutory period for the easement was fulfilled on November 20, 1996, just in time for Kramer to open up the non-filtered section in Jerry’s apartment! (See: The Abstinence, which aired on November 21, 1996)
Well, the verdict isn’t in just yet. While Kramer would be able to fulfill most of the requirements of easement by prescription, he would likely not be able to satisfy the “exclusivity” requirement. This can only be fulfilled if Kramer had used Jerry’s apartment exclusively, which seems unlikely since Jerry actually lives in the apartment! Not only that, Jerry occasionally even blocks Kramer from entering the apartment, like when he locks the door in “The Implant.” It seems pretty unlikely that Kramer could convince a court that he was using Jerry’s apartment exclusively during this time.
With regards to Kramer taking Jerry’s things – easements do not apply to “chattels,” which are movable objects like pizza, SONY Walkmans, or tomato juice. Therefore, Jerry could not legally grant an easement to Kramer by saying “what’s mine is yours,” because easements cannot be applied to movable objects.
Ultimately, while Kramer could attempt to make a compelling legal argument that he has an easement to enter Jerry’s apartment, his position would likely fail as he would not be able to fulfill the exclusivity requirement of easement by prescription. And while Jerry is certainly gracious enough to let Kramer take whatever he wants, Kramer has no legal right to anything more than that original slice of pizza Jerry offered him.