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Understanding Easements: What are the different types and what is their purpose?

What is An Easement?

Most people have heard of an easement or know someone who has an easement on their property. I grew up in a neighborhood where our property backed right up to my neighbors in the rear. Everything was great until he decided to wake up on the wrong side of the bed one morning and began claiming that the drainage gully in between our properties was his property. The proper steps were taken and both properties were surveyed, only to find out that 40 foot strip of land spanning the whole width of the property was a utility easement, and it was split down the middle of our properties.

So what is an easement and what exactly are they for? An easement gives its holder a right of use over the land of another and arises by express grant or implication. There are several different types, here are the two most common types. A right of way easement allows another person to travel or pass through your land. The most common form of right of way easement is a road or path through your land. The right of way easement road is meant to benefit a particular person or another parcel of land not owned by you. Next is a utility easement, this type allows a utility company the right to use and access specific area of another’s property for laying gas, electric, water, and sewer lines.

There are two different ways easements that can made through legal documentation. An easement appurtenant runs with the land, meaning that it continues to exist even after the land is conveyed. Easements appurtenant are characterized by the existence of a dominant estate and a servient estate. The dominant estate is the land that benefits from the easement, the servient estate is the land that is burdened by the easement.

The other type are easements in gross, which are conveyed for the benefit of a specific person or business entity. Easements in gross cannot be sold, assigned, or inherited, unless such an intent is specifically expressed by the parties. For example, a homeowner may have an easement in gross with a neighbor, allowing the homeowner to use a path through the neighbor’s woods to reach the property. If the homeowner then sells the property, the rights granted in the easement in gross cannot be automatically passed to next property owner.

However, an easement can be terminated if the court finds it’s being accessed beyond reasonable use, as in when it substantially interferes with the landowner or there was an expiration date on the easement. In addition to termination, there is also the chance for adverse possession to take place. This is when “A trespasser” is entitled to legal ownership of property if his occupation of the property is hostile, actual, open and notorious, exclusive and continuous for a period of years set by state statute, in Maryland it is 20 years. It is ridiculous to think that someone could acquire your land just by using it, but just be sure to keep an eye on all your property and be sure no one else is using it.

Easements are nothing to be afraid of as many properties come with them, just be sure that you are sure to know exactly what the easement is being used for and all the conditions that come with it.

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