What is Easement Law?

Charity Delich

Easement law is a body of law encompassing any legal requirements associated with an easement, which grants one party the right to use another party’s real property for a particular purpose. For example, an electric company may have a license allowing it to place electric poles and wiring on a homeowner’s land. In some jurisdictions, the party owning the property easement is referred to as the dominant tenement owner while the servient tenement owner is the party on whose property the easement is located.

Easements may enable someone to use a portion of a neighbor's property for a specific purpose.
Easements may enable someone to use a portion of a neighbor's property for a specific purpose.

Easement law encompasses both private and public easements. A public easement is generally available to all members of the public. For example, a public park and a state highway are each public easements.

Some land owners create easements when they sell part of their land but reserve the right to use part of the land in the future.
Some land owners create easements when they sell part of their land but reserve the right to use part of the land in the future.

On the other hand, a private easement can only be used by a limited number of people. For example, suppose that a condominium owner has an circuit box in his or her garage containing electric circuits for all of the condominium units in a building. The other condo owners would likely be given the right to use the garage for the purpose of handling their own electric needs. Other members of the public, however, would not have authorization to use the garage.

In general, easement law allows several different ways to create land use licenses. One of the most common types of easements is one granted by a written deed. The deed typically specifies the land that may be used, who may use the land, and the purpose for which it can be used.

In some jurisdictions, easement law allows an easement to be created by implication. For instance, suppose that a property owner sells off two separate plots of land and that the second plot can only be accessed using a driveway located on the first plot of land. An easement by implication would permit the second plot owner to access his or her land using the driveway on the first plot owner's land.

Some land owners create easements when they sell part of their land but reserve the right to use part of the land in the future. For example, a landowner may sell a piece of property to a developer but retain the right to drill for minerals and oil. A few jurisdictions permit easements to be created by prescription, which arises when one party has consistently used another party’s land for a particular purpose. Usually, the use must be continuous for a period of time specified in statutory easement law.

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I own property that was sold with a legal description and my neighbor behind already had a private road on part of my property and the original land owner. Now two more have moved behind them and still use the same road that my property line owns half of and is not a county or city road.

I want asphalt on the road and I only own half of the road. Now I am in a dilemma because the other owner will not pay or give permission to asphalt the road. What do you do?


@Izzy78 - Like the article kind of alludes to, mineral rights are a big deal in terms of property disputes. For a short time, I lived in Kentucky. In eastern Kentucky as well as West Virginia, Virginia, and a lot of the other states in that area, coal mining is a huge industry. Love it or hate it, it happens.

What really makes a lot of people mad, though, is that the coal companies own easements on the underground resources and can mine them at any time. Because of that, a lot of landowners have their forests and land torn up by the coal companies.

The U.S. government also has a type of easement on all the property in the country. They can take any property for any reason as long as they give "just compensation," i.e. money. Of course, high profile cases ended after the interstates were finished, and there are a lot of laws in place to protect the landowners.


@kentuckycat - I am not sure if it is this way where you live, but my city also has the rights to the trees that are within so many feet of a road or sidewalk. I think the main reason is so that they can cut down dead or dying trees to avoid possible property damage.

At the same time, the urban forestry department evaluates the worth of all of the city's trees, and people are responsible for the cost if they want to have them cut down.

What I was curious about was whether there are lawyers that specialize in dealing with property easement law. I have heard a lot about people purchasing easements on peoples' land so that they can't pollute or have to manage the land in a certain way. My friends and I were very interested in possibly buying one of these easements, but don't really know how to go about it.


@Izzy78 - One of the most common owners of easement rights is a municipality. People don't usually think about the laws behind it, but that is the case. If the city workers came in and started digging up a water line, you probably would just accept it as part of them doing their job (even if it was annoying or inconvenient for you). Most people usually don't think the same way about a utility company coming in and chopping off part of their tree because it is touching a power line.

At least where I live, and I think this is common in most places, the city will own the road, of course, but they also have easements for so many feet past the road. That is what gives them the right to put sidewalks in. That is also the reason you can't block people from walking on the sidewalk or charge them for trespassing if they are on the sidewalk. Technically, it doesn't belong to the property owner.


So, if you move into a new house, will you always be told that your property belongs to some sort of an easement, or is it your responsibility to find out on your own? I guess the other option would be for the dominant owner to inform everyone of the rights they have to the land, but I doubt that is the case, since that would get tedious and overwhelming for that person or company if they owned the rights to a bunch of different land properties.

Whenever a company, like the electric company in the example, is going to install power lines, do they have to give you some sort of written notice before they start digging things up, or can they just come in and start doing it?

Besides utility companies, what are some other of the common land easement laws? Like, who else is likely to own part of your property, and is there any way around it?

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