All of us would like to think we can do whatever we want with our own property, but that isn’t necessarily the case.
One relatively common type of situation that challenges property rights involves an easement.
For instance, a landowner may wish to build a new fence on their own property, but doing so would cut off their neighbor’s access to their own property. If the neighbor has an easement across the owner’s property, they can use the law to stop them from building the fence, or even force them to tear it down.
The legal issues involved can be very complicated. In this blog post, we’ll provide an introduction.
What is an easement?
An easement is a kind of property interest in someone else’s land. This interest is typically limited to its function. In the example we gave above, the neighbor might have the right to cross the owner’s property only to access their own land. Typically, the easement owner doesn’t have the right to build on the land or take many other actions a typical landowner might. Still, the easement owner’s interest limits the other owner’s right to use the land.
Express, implied or prescriptive
Easements can be express, implied or prescriptive:
- Express: This means the easement is written into a deed. This type of easement might be positive (giving the easement owner the right to use the property for a certain purpose) or negative (meaning that the other owner may not use the property to do something that limits the easement owner’s enjoyment of their property, such as building a structure that blocks their view).
- Implied: This type of easement is not written in a deed but has been established over time through use. In many cases, this involves a large plot of land that has been subdivided. If one of the divisions is inaccessible without using the easement, a court might find that the easement has been implied.
- Prescriptive: Related to an implied easement, this type comes about after a misunderstanding about the property boundaries causes one party to use land that is actually owned by someone else. If this situation exists over a long period of time, a court may find that an easement has been established.
Just as every piece of property is unique, no two easement cases are exactly alike. Still, a factor that’s common in these cases is that neighbors have got along just fine for years without thinking much about the easement, but then something suddenly changes. Perhaps one of the neighbors sells their land, or decides to build a new structure that interferes with the other’s enjoyment of their property.
Because these cases necessarily involve neighbors, the disputes can be unpleasant. It’s important for anyone involved in such a disagreement to learn more about their rights and options.