Ever wonder why a utility company can cross your property line without asking for your permission? Or how some individuals are allowed to reach their property by crossing a neighbor’s land without asking each time? These individuals and organizations often have permission to use another party’s land through something called an easement.
An easement is a property right that allows one party to pass through another’s land (or use it) for a specific reason. The individual or organization that receives access to the land is the holder of the easement. This property right is nonpossessory, meaning that it allows specific use to the easement holder without transferring any ownership. Sometimes, an easement is called a right-of-way easement, land easement, or property easement. Easements are sometimes, but not always, in writing.
For a utility worker, an easement may allow them to check a home’s water or electricity meter to ensure they’re properly functioning. For a rural property owner, an easement may allow them to access a neighbor’s well. Neighbors can negotiate the terms of an easement to allow neighbors to access the well as needed. Once negotiated, a landowner can use a Letter of Intent to express their intent of providing a neighbor with an easement.
To establish an easement, a landowner may outline the details in their property deed or title papers prepared by an attorney.
Types of easements
There are many types of easements, but some common examples include:
- Easement by necessity: This is an easement required for a specific and necessary reason. For instance, use an easement by necessity if the only way in and out of your property is through your neighbor’s lot.
- Utility easement: Utility companies sometimes need to access properties for city-approved purposes. Perhaps a utility company needs to replace the underground sewer lines in your backyard. Maybe a power company needs to install another power line post at the edge of your fence. This easement lets utility workers work and move on to their next job rather than having to ask homeowners for permission to enter their land.
- Private easement: This is when one landowner sells access to a section of their property, such as a pathway, to an adjacent piece of land. A private easement can allow one of the parties to access something important, such as a water well. It can also prevent a landowner from doing something, such as removing a section of trees that conceals one property from another. You should place this type of easement on a property’s land title. This way, even if the owner sells the property, the easement is still in place when the property transfers to the new owner.
- Easement in gross: This is a type of easement that ends when the landowner no longer owns the land or the holder of the easement dies.
Read more: A Homeowner’s Guide to Boundary Disputes
How to remove an easement
Once in place, an easement can be very difficult (and sometimes impossible) to remove. Most often, an easement is permanent unless the parties agree that it will expire on a specific date or when certain conditions occur.
An easement many terminate because:
- The easement is only valid for a specific purpose
- The easement only lasts for a specific time period
- The easement holder buys the landowner’s property
- The owner of the land sells the property, and the easement isn’t in the land title
Easement disputes and problems
Interfering with an easement can result in severe financial and legal consequences such as fines and court orders. Thus, you should review a property’s land title and its potential easements before buying a home or property. Sellers can also save time and money by highlighting any property easements before preparing their Real Estate Purchase Agreement to sign with a potential buyer.
Although easements can be tricky to understand, knowing why they exist and being aware that they can be on a property’s title is important. Before negotiating or agreeing to terms regarding an easement for your own property, be sure to do more research and consider seeking an attorney’s advice.