Property Owners Rights - Easement

An easement is the right to use all, or part, of a property owned by someone else, for a stated purpose. Almost every home has an easement of some kind or another. Easements can be established through contracts, wills or deeds.

Basics

A right-of-way easement  gives someone the legal right to use the land involved for travel-through purposes. For example, Mr. Johnson owns a large beach front property, but not the beach itself, and his neighbor wants to access the beach but does not  want to travel all the way to a public access point to get to the beach. Mr. Johnson can grant an easement that gives the right for people to cross his property to get to the beach. The easement then goes on the deed for both Mr. Johnson’s land and his neighbor’s land. The easement will be valid even if the property owners sell their property.

Another kind of easement blocks some specified actions. For example, an easement might be used to prevent one landowner from blocking the ocean view of another landowner. For example, if Mr. Johnson has an easement that prevents him from building two stories, and he does, his neighbors can lawfully require that the second story be torn down.

When looking to buy a property that has an easement on it, do not assume that just because an easement is not in use at the moment, it will never be in use. The other party in the easement contract  can choose to enforce it at any time.

Easements can also be made to apply only to specific individuals. In that case the easement expires after a certain time, or upon the death of one of the two parties. An easement can be granted for many other reasons. For example, to allow a utility company the right to build power lines across an owner’s land. Land that has an easement on it is called a “servient estate”. Land that benefits by an easement is called a “dominant estate”.

Effects of  an Easement

If you choose to grant an easement, you will normally not be allowed to build anything in an easement area, or build any fences that will block access. Easements can also affect property values. If there are many easements on a property, it would curb the number of structures you can build on your property. Also, if you allow power lines to be built through your property, you run the risk of lowering you property value. Many people consider power lines to be unsightly and dangerous. 

Terminating an Easement

You might want to terminate an easement on your property for various reasons. For example, you might want to put in a swimming pool. Terminating an easement might be tough, but it is not impossible. Talk to an experienced real estate attorney to see what you can do. Each state has different rules and regulations regarding easements, so it is in your interest to be informed about them.



Can a property owner block an easement?



As the owner of a property, you have ultimate control over whether an easement goes into effect. An easement is a contract among you, the property owner, and another individual or company who does not own rights to your property. By refusing to grant an easement, you can block it from coming to fruition. The main exception to this ability is if the government is on the other end of an easement. In this case, the government, whether it is local, state or federal, may claim eminent domain rights over your property. This permits them to seize your property, if necessary, but they must provide financial compensation.



Can you put a pool on an easement?



If you share a portion of your private land by means of an easement contract, you cannot build on that land for any reason. This would include any permanent structure, such as a swimming pool or even a walkway. However, you may apply to the city or municipality where your easement is filed to build your pool. The municipality would either have to grant termination of the easement or amend the contract to allow for the construction of a pool. If there is an easement on your property, it is in your best interest to seek modification before you begin construction of any type. 



How do you find out if your home has an easement?



You should learn of any easement on your land prior to its purchase; in fact, the easement should be listed on the real estate deed. However, not all property owners are up front about easements on the property, and you may have an easement on your home without your knowledge. All easements are on record with the city or county registrar. Look up previous deeds on your home to determine if an easement is in place. If you purchased a home with an easement you were not informed of, you may be able to render the real estate contract void.

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