Easement Law & Legal Definition


An easement gives one party the right to go onto another party's property. That property may be owned by a private person, a business entity, or a group of owners. Utilities often get easements that allow them to run pipes or phone lines beneath private property. A nonexclusive easement does not specify any specific parties. An exclusive easement specifies parties who have benefit of that easement. Easements may be obtained for access to another property, called "access and egress", use of spring water, entry to make repairs on a fence or slide area, drive cattle across and other uses. The easement is a real property interest, but separate from the legal title of the owner of the underlying land.

In the case of a driveway easement, it allows the person who is the beneficiary of the easement to cross the "servient" property. The land which receives the benefit of the easement is called the "dominant" property or estate. A driveway easement may be created by recording a deed that states, for example, that one neighbor owns the driveway to the halfway point, but has an easement or right of way to use the remainder; however, the adjoining home owns the other half of the driveway, with a right-of-way with respect to the portion the neighbor owns. An easement may be claimed by prescription for the use of the driveway. This requires proof that your neighbor willingly abandoned his use of the driveway during the adverse period when you and your predecessor in title enjoyed the exclusive use of the driveway. Easements should describe the extent of the use, as well as the easement location and boundaries. For example, if an easement is created for the driveway for one house, the owner of the easement cannot turn his house into a hotel with many cars travelling over the easement if the easement was intended for use by a single family.

Easements can be created by a deed to be recorded just like any real property interest, by continuous and open use by the non-owner against the rights of the property owner for a statutory number of years, typically five ("prescriptive easement"), or to do equity (fairness), including giving access to a "land-locked" piece of property (sometimes called an "easement of necessity"). Because landlocked parcels have virtually no value, an easement by necessity can usually be created over an adjoining parcel if, at sometime in the past, it had common ownership with the landlocked parcel.

Easements may be specifically described by boundaries or by its purpose. There is also a "negative easement" such as a prohibition against building a structure which blocks a view. Title reports and title abstracts will usually describe all existing easements upon a parcel of real property. The location, maintenance, and uses of the easement are defined by the agreement, use, or instrument creating the easement. In some cases, the owner of the servient property charges the easement holder a maintenance fee, however, maintenance may be subject to any type of agreement between the parties involved. Easements may be renegotiated under contract law principles. All claims involving claims on land need to be carefully drafted.

There are basically two types of easements- easements in gross and appurtenant easements. Easements in gross are personal rights given to individuals or specific groups. Once the easement owner dies or, in the case of corporations, dissolves, the easement terminates. Appurtenant easements are more permanent and are given to both the property and its owner. If the property owner with an easement sells the property, the new buyer gains the easement rights that belong with the property. To be a legal appurtenant easement, the properties involved must be adjacent to each other and must be owned by separate entities.