All About Easements

You might have heard of an easement before or have one on your property. Basically, an “easement” grants someone else perpetual access to your property or through it without transferring ownership. Easement language in a title report (the report that defines the property’s boundaries, legal description, owners and any other pertinent information about the property) will define what individuals or entities have access and what part of the property has that access – usually defined on a property map submitted with the county or city, although in some cases, this is not defined.

But what exactly does it mean to have an easement? Below are some common questions I get about them:

I am looking at a property that has a driveway-type easement through it to the property behind mine. Since the easement is wide (10 feet), can I use it for excess parking? The neighbor can just let me know if he needs me to move my car.

No. An easement grants designated parties perpetual access. If your neighbor has to ask you to move your car, that is not granting perpetual access.

I have owned my home for five years which has an easement along the west side for the energy company. This easement is 10 feet wide. I would really like to put a fence up, but I don’t want to lose those ten feet of yard on the west side. Since they have never accessed it and there are no wires or underground cables, I can’t see why this easement exists. Can I put up my fence?

Although easements usually are permanent, they can be terminated in court if deemed to no longer be necessary. This may include access to wells which have long been capped or access for mining companies which have long since boarded up shop. However, you should assume an easement is permanent unless you take the action to have it removed and are successful. Otherwise you may spend thousands putting up a fence only to be told it must be removed.

I have a driveway easement running through my property that serves my property and the three homes behind me. There is no language on title regarding who maintains the easement, nor do we have a roads maintenance agreement. I have one neighbor who chips in for gravel but the other neighbors don’t, even when asked. How can I get my neighbors to chip in?

Generally speaking, if you don’t have a maintenance agreement and assuming their properties start where yours ends, you should each be responsible for 25% of the fees to maintain the road. However, this may or may not be enforceable in your area and you should check with an attorney.  There are court cases that have established the practice of maintenance sharing, but again, an attorney will be able to help you determine your next steps.

Easements can be tricky and when I am working with a buyer I always point out the easements that show up on the title report so he or she understands how the property can be used. Have an easement question? Please send it to me at [email protected] or give me a call at (206) 790-0081.