Prescriptive Easement Definition and Legal Meaning

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

What is Prescriptive Easement?

It is the right to use and acquire someone elses property by the way of using the land for a long and continuous specified period legally, without the permission of the owner, but by the rule of the state.Normally the location, the ownership documents and easement rules are not clear and precise.

History and Meaning of Prescriptive Easement

A prescriptive easement is a legal right to use someone else's property for a specific and continuous purpose, without the owner's consent but by the rule of the state. It is typically obtained after using the land openly, continuously, without the owner's permission, and under the belief that the use is legally allowed. The easement can be acquired for different purposes such as a pathway, driveway, or as a right to access a water source.

The origins of prescriptive easements can be traced back to English common law, where it was recognized that after someone had used another person's property for a long period of time, they gained a right to continue doing so. The concept was later adopted in the United States, and specific rules were developed for acquiring a prescriptive easement.

To acquire a prescriptive easement, the use of the property must be open, visible, exclusive, and inconsistent with the owner’s rights. Typically, the use must also be continuous for a statutory period, which varies depending on the state. Landowners can try to prevent someone from acquiring a prescriptive easement if they interfere with the use or if they give explicit permission for the use.

Examples of Prescriptive Easement

  • A neighbor who walks over a specific property continuously to reach their backyard gains a prescriptive easement to the pathway.
  • A family that accesses a private beach through someone else's property for more than 20 years could gain a prescriptive easement to continue using the beach.
  • A utility company that runs power lines across a landowner's property for a long period of time without a formal easement may acquire a prescriptive easement.

Legal Terms Similar to Prescriptive Easement

  • Easement by necessity - this refers to an easement that is granted to someone in cases where it is necessary to access a landlocked property.
  • Adverse possession - this refers to a legal concept that allows someone to gain ownership of another person's property by using it openly, continuously, and exclusively without the owner's objection or permission for a specified period of time.
  • License - this is a temporary permission granted by the landowner for someone to use their property for a specific purpose. Unlike prescriptive easements, licenses do not grant a legal right of continued use, and they are revocable by the landowner at any time.
  • Covenant - this refers to a contractual agreement between two parties that outlines the rights and obligations of each party concerning the use of the property. Unlike prescriptive easements, covenants are created through a voluntary agreement between the parties involved.