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Understanding easement rights

Imagine you’ve found the perfect home or piece of land, but you find out there’s an easement on the property. What do you need to know?

An easement gives someone the legal right to use your property in a specific way. For example, your next-door neighbor might have access to drive across your land to get to theirs. The utility company might have the right to dig up your lawn to install power lines.

Easement duration
Some easements can be canceled, but some remain in perpetuity. An appurtenant easement applies to the land, meaning the easement remains if the land is sold. But an easement in gross gives rights to an individual owner, and the easement expires if the landowner sells the property or dies.

Common easements

  • Private easement: A property owner may sell an easement to an individual. They may, for example, grant a neighbor sewer or solar access or the right to use a driveway.
  • Easement by necessity: When a property owner is landlocked, they cannot be denied access to their property.
  • Utility easement: A utility company may access a property for things such as power or water lines.
  • Prescriptive easement: Use of a property is granted for a defined period of time.
  • Public easement: Access to a property is granted for public use.

Easements can be affirmative or negative in nature. An affirmative easement grants permission for the land to be used in a certain way. A negative restriction is one that is placed on the land. This type of easement prohibits you from doing something with your property. For example, a negative easement may prevent you from putting up a building or planting trees that would block a neighbor’s view or block sunlight to their solar panels.

Disputing easements
As a property owner, you can’t interfere with the purpose of a legal easement. If you do so, you may be liable for damages and subject to a court order requiring you to stop.

In certain circumstances, an easement can be challenged in court. Easement rights may be void if they are no longer necessary. If you wish to dispute an easement or are concerned that someone is trespassing on your property, talk to an experienced real estate attorney, because laws vary from state to state.

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