What is an easement?

An easement is an interest in real estate that gives one person the right to use another person’s land for a specific purpose. A person that is granted an easement does not own the property but only has a right to use the property. Ownership of the property remains with the owner but that ownership is subject to the rights of the easement holder.

The most important rule to remember when dealing with easements is the fact that easements mean no more nor less than the specific words of the easement itself. Many real estate disputes involve the extent of the use of the easement. For example, unless provided otherwise, an easement is “non-exclusive”. This means that other parties, including the owner of the property, may use the easement as long as it does not impair the legal rights of the easement holder. One other common area of easement dispute is the extent to which an easement may be improved. Easements may not be improved except to the extent the improvement is necessary for the easement holder’s use and enjoyment of the easement.

Most easements are created by a written document. However, easements may also be created by law without anything in writing. The easements created by law are those easements that meet very specific legal requirements. An example of an easement created by law is an easement by necessity. That is, an easement implied by law in order to avoid “land locking” a property. Another easement that arises by operation of law is a prescriptive easement. A prescriptive easement is an easement that arises by the continuous use of property for at least 15 years without permission of the land owner.

If you have any questions regarding easements, you may consult with one of our attorneys experienced in real estate law.