What is an easement?

An easement creates limited property rights for a third party to do something on land that doesn't belong to him.
In other words, when a property owner grants someone an easement, that person has been granted legal rights regarding land that doesn't technically belong to them. Most commonly, an easement is granted to utility companies to run power lines and cable lines. However, you may also grant an easement to your neighbor if your property is in the way of his access to a road, or to anyone else who needs to have a legal right to access your land.

Easements can be either express (stated by the land owner formally)or implied. In either case, the easement generally provides only a limited amount of rights. In other words, if Joe grants his neighbor Sam an easement to use the driveway to move his car in and out, then Sam can do one thing on that land only; move his car in and out. He can't plant a garden, play basketball with his kids, or do anything else on that driveway.

In general, property rights law divides easements into two categories: easement appurtenant and easement in gross. Easements classified as "appurtenant" are said to "run with the land" which means that they are part of the formal ownership of the land. In the above example, if Sam's easement was an easement appurtenant, then when Sam sold the property, the new owner will have the right to continue to use the driveway. The other type of easement, easement in gross, is a personal easement that doesn't necessarily transfer when the ownership of the land transfers.

If you are involved in a real estate deal that includes an easement, or if you are considering creating an easement, it is in your best interest to speak to a lawyer.

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