Robert Frost once wrote that “Good fences make good neighbors.” The poet was not referring to people bonding over the task of mending fences. Rather, defined boundaries are an important facet of neighborly relationships.
Without clearly defined property lines and rights, otherwise good people too often become embroiled in land disputes. That’s why a basic knowledge about easements, right of ways can help property owners maintain a working friendship with people whose land abuts yours. These are four of the important elements about easements, right of ways you should know.
An easement allows another person the right to access a property for a specific purpose. There are two basic types. Negative easements prevent an owner from using their property in a certain fashion. This might preclude building another floor on a home that would block a water view. A positive easement might allow someone access to land for the purpose of clearing timber or driving over it. The right to passage over a property remains the most common.
A right of way is, in fact, a type of easement. The general difference is that it is often accompanied by a defined road or pathway that one party uses to cross over. Hunters often establish right of ways with property owners and landlocked homes generally have driveways running over another person’s land.
There are several ways an easement may legally created. The first is generally called a “permissive easement.” This basically means you give permission to another party to use your land in a specific fashion. Again, driving over it to reach their property is the most common.
A key element of a permissive easement is that, in most states, it cannot become permanent without the property owner’s express authorization. In other words, allowing someone to drive over your land does not give them the right to continue forever. You can decide at any time to revoke permission.
Another way that easements formed is by adverse possession. This tends to lead to hostilities between neighbors because one party asks the courts for a legal right to use your land based on prior usage. The lawsuit generally offers little or no compensation. It’s basically a land grab.
The more amicable way to create an easement is by granting an abutter the right to use your land. This generally entails creating a land-use agreement in which the property owner receives reasonable compensation.
An easement does not necessarily last forever. Some granted with a defined expiration date. Others recorded with the deed and passed on from owner to owner. When buying a home, a title search should be performed that provides detail about existing easements and right of ways. This is an important part of purchasing a property because land disputes can be financially and emotionally taxing.