What Is an Easement?

Have you ever taken a trail through a residential area on your way to a public waterfront or beach? If so, you may have accessed that waterfront or beach via an easement. At their most basic, easements are property rights that allow the easement holder to maintain an interest in land that they don’t own. In the waterfront example, the government may have secured an easement interest in a specific stretch of privately owned residential land in order to allow the public reasonable access to the waterfront or beach.

Because easement holders only have nonpossessory rights to the land that they don’t own, those rights are limited. They cannot, for example, occupy the land or keep others from using that land unless that usage interferes with the easement holder’s right to use the land. In the waterfront example, the government could not set up a storefront on the trail (occupation inconsistent with the purpose of the easement) or keep anyone from using the trail unless that usage interfered with general public access to the waterfront. By contrast, the property holder maintains exclusive ownership rights, is permitted to use the property affected by the easement, and is permitted to exclude all but the easement holder from using the easement-affected land. For example, if an easement is created to allow a farmer access to their privately owned fields that are separated by a privately owned section of woodland, the owner of the woodland could keep everyone but the farmer and the farmer’s employees from accessing the easement.

Easements Are Legally Complex

Note that there are two primary kinds of easements. Affirmative easements, like the examples noted above, allow someone other than the landowner to utilize the landowner’s property in a specific way. Conversely, negative easements help to preserve a landowner’s use or enjoyment of their property by limiting the owner of a neighboring property to take certain actions on their land. For example, the owner of a home could secure a negative easement to prohibit their neighbors from building an addition onto their home that would tower so high as to block the easement holder’s view.

Whether an affirmative or negative easement is at issue, easement matters are legally complex. Securing the right to use another’s land is often a heated subject and tends to be governed by numerous federal, state, and local laws. Whenever you’re dealing with easement matters, it’s important not to underestimate how complex they are, and therefore how challenging they can be to navigate.

Legal Assistance Is Available

Whether you are a landowner hoping to block an easement action or you’re hoping to secure an easement, it’s important to seek experienced legal counsel before moving forward. Because this area of law is both complex and consequential, having a real estate lawyer, experienced in the area of easement law on your side will help to ensure that your rights are protected and that your case is pursued in a knowledgeable, vigorous way. No-risk, no-obligation consultations are confidential, so there is no reason to delay. Seek informed guidance by speaking with an experienced real estate lawyer today.