Easement Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Easement, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Easement?

n. the right to use the real property of another for a specific purpose. The easement is itself a real property interest, but legal title to the underlying land is retained by the original owner for all other purposes. Typical easements are for access to another property (often redundantly stated “access and egress,” since entry and exit are over the same path), for utility or sewer lines both under and above ground, use of spring water, entry to make repairs on a fence or slide area, drive cattle across and other uses. Easements can be created by a deed to be recorded just like any real property interest, by continuous and open use by the non-owner against the rights of the property owner for a statutory number of years, typically five (“prescriptive easement”), or to do equity (fairness), including giving access to a “land-locked” piece of property (sometimes called an “easement of necessity”). Easements may be specifically described by boundaries (“24 feet wide along the northern line for a distance of 180 feet”), somewhat indefinite (“along the trail to the northern boundary”) or just for a purpose (“to provide access to the Jones property” or “access to the spring”) sometimes called a “floating easement.” There is also a “negative easement” such as a prohibition against building a structure which blocks a view. Title reports and title abstracts will usually describe all existing easements upon a parcel of real property. Issues of maintenance, joint use, locking gates, damage to easement and other conflicts clog the judicial system, mostly due to misunderstandings at the time of creation.

History and Meaning of Easement

Easement is a legal concept that traces its origins to English common law. Its basic definition is the right to use the property of another for a specific, limited purpose, while the legal title to the property remains with the original owner. An easement is, therefore, a form of real property interest that does not amount to full ownership. Easements can be created in different ways, such as by a deed recorded like any other property interest, by continuous use by the non-owner against the rights of the property owner, or by equity or fairness, including allowing access to a landlocked parcel. Easements can be for various purposes, including access, utility or sewer lines, and use of natural resources.

Examples of Easement

  1. A property owner grants an easement to a neighbor to use a road running through their property to access their own property, which is otherwise landlocked.
  2. A city grants an easement to a utility company to run overhead power lines above a street.
  3. A farmer grants an easement to a hunting club to cross their land to access nearby public hunting grounds.

Legal Terms Similar to Easement

  1. Covenant: a promise contained in a deed or lease that requires a party to do or refrain from doing something on the property.
  2. Licenses: a temporary, revocable right to use property for a specific purpose.
  3. Right-of-way: an easement that grants the right to use a particular path or route over someone else's land.