If you are a property owner it's likely you've heard the term "easement." In fact, you may even have one on your property. Yet, you may not have a full understanding of how easements work, or how they can affect your own property rights. Here, we'll look at the law behind easements and related legal issues.
What Are Easements?
Easements are special property rights that grant another person a non-possessory interest. Easements usually allow someone to traverse your property to get to another destination. They can also belong to utility companies that run power or sewage lines through a property.
Easement holders do not have the same rights as the property owner. An easement holder cannot exclude others from the land. The holder may only eject others from the easement if they interfere with its purpose. Holders of easements may not occupy the land. Rather, they are only allowed to make temporary use of it as defined in the easement.
The terms used in easements seem complex at first glance. For example, the land that contains the easement is the "servient estate." Conversely, the "dominant estate" is the land area that benefits from the easement. In other words, a parcel of land would be the servient estate. A pathway (per the easement) would be the dominant estate. As you can see the terms are confusing, but a real estate attorney can help you make sense of them.
There are a couple other designations to be familiar with. An easement is "appurtenant" when it benefits another piece of land. Imagine a situation where a parcel is landlocked, and a driveway across another piece of land is the only means of access to a road. This easement is appurtenant because it concerns the land-locked property. When an easement belongs to a particular person it is an "easement in gross."
Easements can also be affirmative or negative. Affirmative easements allow the owner to do something on the land, i.e. walk across a path. A negative easement prevents a holder from doing something, i.e. blocking the water flow from an artificial stream.
How to Create an Easement
Easements are usually created through a written document. They can be conveyed through a will, deed, contract or other type of agreement. Conveyance formalities are necessary to make the easement enforceable at law. Easements can also be imposed by a court or obtained through adverse possession.
Common Legal Issues With Easements
As any real estate lawyer will tell you, easements tend to become a source of legal disputes. The main area of contention is whether use of an easement is reasonable. Easement holders have the right to use the land to their enjoyment as long as it does not place an unreasonable burden on the servient estate. Landowners have the right to make whatever use of the land as long as it doesn't unduly affect the easement. As you can see, there is potential for these two positions to come into conflict. In the real world, two people may have different interpretations of reasonableness or undue burdens.
Both parties to an easement may have legal remedies if a conflict occurs. The servient estate owner may seek an injunction to block certain activities. He or she might also request a termination of the easement. The dominant estate holder may sue for trespass. Also, both parties may be able to request money damages for certain acts.
Whenever you are experiencing problems with an easement it is advisable to get the help of an experienced attorney. Spencer and Jensen, PLLC is available to assist you.