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LEGAL DICTIONARY

Easement

What Is an Easement?

An easement is a legal agreement that allows someone else the right to access your property for a limited and specific purpose.

One of the most common examples is a utility easement. Public utility companies often have access to private property in order to build and maintain electrical poles or run natural gas pipes on a property.

Another example of an easement is when you have the right to enter or cross over someone else's property in order to enter your own property. Now we will examine the different categories easements can fall into.

Positive and Negative Easements

There are two broad categories of easements: negative and positive.

A positive easement (also called an affirmative easement) allows the easement holder the legal right to do something on the easement grantor's land.

This right might be, for example, to walk or drive through the grantor's property on the way to your own land. The party that benefits from the easement –in this case, the party that can use the other property– is called the dominant estate.

In contrast, a negative easement gives the easement holder the right to prevent the easement grantor from doing something on their property, such as building a structure that blocks sunlight or a scenic view. The party that must allow the other party to use their property is called the servient estate.

What Are the Different Types of Easements?

Under those broad distinctions, there are several types of easements. Here are the ones property owners are most likely to encounter when selling or purchasing real estate.

Utility easement

A utility easement gives public utility workers legal access to private property for the purpose of installing or maintaining equipment.

Some utility easements put limits on what property owners can and cannot do on their property. For instance, a utility easement may specify that you cannot plant trees or build structures that could interfere with power lines.

Private easement

A private easement is given or sold by one property owner to another party, often a neighboring property owner. For example, a neighbor may want to cross your land to reach a nearby pond or trail system.

You have the right to either grant or refuse a private easement. However, a private easement can affect future owners of your property. Homebuyers should always check for the existence of private easements before buying a property.

Easement in gross

An easement in gross is an agreement between two different parties that is not tied to the future of the property, but rather to the individual who makes the agreement.

This type of easement is typically considered irrevocable for the grantor's life, but it can be regarded as void if that individual sells the property in question.

Here's an example of an easement in gross: a homeowner allows a neighbor to use a path through the homeowner's property as a shortcut to the neighbor's property. If the easement grantor passes away or sells the property, the new property owner may choose not to honor the agreement.

Another example is that a utility company that has an easement of gross cannot transfer that right to another company without the property owner's consent.

Easement appurtenant

Unlike an easement in gross, an easement appurtenant is tied to the land and is transferred with the deed to the property.

An example of an easement appurtenant is a footpath through your property that allows other community residents access to a public beach. This easement would be listed on the title to the property and would transfer to any new owner.

Easement by prescription

An easement by prescription (also called a prescriptive easement) is created when someone has been using another person's land for a continuous and uninterrupted period of time as if an easement existed.

For example, someone could file for an easement by prescription to continue using your dock or a path through your property. Typically, the ongoing use of the property needs to have been obvious and observable for a number of years, which can vary by state.

Helpful Resources:

Cornell Law - Easement

What Is an Easement?

An easement is a legal agreement that allows someone else the right to access your property for a limited and specific purpose.

One of the most common examples is a utility easement. Public utility companies often have access to private property in order to build and maintain electrical poles or run natural gas pipes on a property.

Another example of an easement is when you have the right to enter or cross over someone else's property in order to enter your own property. Now we will examine the different categories easements can fall into.

Positive and Negative Easements

There are two broad categories of easements: negative and positive.

A positive easement (also called an affirmative easement) allows the easement holder the legal right to do something on the easement grantor's land.

This right might be, for example, to walk or drive through the grantor's property on the way to your own land. The party that benefits from the easement –in this case, the party that can use the other property– is called the dominant estate.

In contrast, a negative easement gives the easement holder the right to prevent the easement grantor from doing something on their property, such as building a structure that blocks sunlight or a scenic view. The party that must allow the other party to use their property is called the servient estate.

What Are the Different Types of Easements?

Under those broad distinctions, there are several types of easements. Here are the ones property owners are most likely to encounter when selling or purchasing real estate.

Utility easement

A utility easement gives public utility workers legal access to private property for the purpose of installing or maintaining equipment.

Some utility easements put limits on what property owners can and cannot do on their property. For instance, a utility easement may specify that you cannot plant trees or build structures that could interfere with power lines.

Private easement

A private easement is given or sold by one property owner to another party, often a neighboring property owner. For example, a neighbor may want to cross your land to reach a nearby pond or trail system.

You have the right to either grant or refuse a private easement. However, a private easement can affect future owners of your property. Homebuyers should always check for the existence of private easements before buying a property.

Easement in gross

An easement in gross is an agreement between two different parties that is not tied to the future of the property, but rather to the individual who makes the agreement.

This type of easement is typically considered irrevocable for the grantor's life, but it can be regarded as void if that individual sells the property in question.

Here's an example of an easement in gross: a homeowner allows a neighbor to use a path through the homeowner's property as a shortcut to the neighbor's property. If the easement grantor passes away or sells the property, the new property owner may choose not to honor the agreement.

Another example is that a utility company that has an easement of gross cannot transfer that right to another company without the property owner's consent.

Easement appurtenant

Unlike an easement in gross, an easement appurtenant is tied to the land and is transferred with the deed to the property.

An example of an easement appurtenant is a footpath through your property that allows other community residents access to a public beach. This easement would be listed on the title to the property and would transfer to any new owner.

Easement by prescription

An easement by prescription (also called a prescriptive easement) is created when someone has been using another person's land for a continuous and uninterrupted period of time as if an easement existed.

For example, someone could file for an easement by prescription to continue using your dock or a path through your property. Typically, the ongoing use of the property needs to have been obvious and observable for a number of years, which can vary by state.

Helpful Resources:

Cornell Law - Easement