May 12, 2023


In this article, readers will learn about easements, their different types, and how they are created. The article also delves into common causes of easement disputes and the legal remedies available to resolve them. Readers will also gain insight into how to resolve easement disputes through reviewing documents, negotiation, mediation, and litigation.

Finally, the article offers advice on preventing easement disputes through proper documentation, maintaining good relationships with neighbors, and regular monitoring.

Understanding Easements

Definition of Easement

An easement is a legal right that allows a person or entity to use a portion of another person’s property for a specific purpose, without transferring ownership. Easements are typically granted to ensure access to an otherwise landlocked property, utilities, drainage, or for other purposes beneficial to the community or the property holder.

Easements may be temporary or permanent and can be terminated under certain circumstances. The property benefiting from the easement is known as the dominant estate, while the property being used is called the servient estate.

Types of Easements

There are several types of easements, each serving a unique purpose and affecting property rights differently. Some common types of easements include affirmative easements, negative easements, prescriptive easements, appurtenant easements, and gross easements.

Affirmative Easements

Affirmative easements grant the right to perform specific actions on the servient estate. This is the most common type of easement and usually involves allowing access to a property for purposes such as crossing or utilities. For example, an affirmative easement might allow a homeowner the right to cross over a neighbor’s property to reach a public road.

Negative Easements

Negative easements restrict the property owner from performing certain actions on their land. These often serve to protect the dominant estate’s value, view, or light access. For example, a negative easement may prohibit a property owner from erecting tall structures that would block the view of a neighboring property.

Prescriptive Easements

Prescriptive easements are created through long-term use and without explicit permission from the property owner. To establish a prescriptive easement, the use must be continuous, open, notorious, and adverse to the property owner for a specific period, which varies by jurisdiction. For example, if a person uses a path across their neighbor’s property without permission for twenty years without being stopped or challenged by the property owner, they may claim a prescriptive easement.

Appurtenant Easements

Appurtenant easements are tied to specific properties, rather than individuals, and transfer with the property when ownership changes. These easements benefit the dominant estate by allowing access or other rights on the servient estate. For example, a homeowner may have an appurtenant easement to access a shared driveway on their neighbor’s property.

Gross Easements

Gross easements are not tied to a specific property but rather to individuals or entities. These easements may be granted to utility companies, for example, to access and maintain equipment on a property. Unlike appurtenant easements, gross easements typically do not transfer to new property owners when the servient estate is sold.

How Easements are Created

Easements can be created through various methods, including express grant, implied grant, necessity, and prescription.

Express Grant

An express grant is a written agreement that explicitly outlines the easement details, such as the location, purpose, and rights involved. This agreement is usually in the form of a deed or contract and should be recorded with the local county recorder’s office to provide public notice of the easement.

Implied Grant

Implied easements are not explicitly stated in a written document but arise due to the circumstances surrounding the property. For example, if a property was once part of a larger parcel and sold off, an implied easement may be created if it is necessary for the property to have access to a public road.


An easement by necessity is created when a property becomes landlocked, meaning it has no legal access to a public road. In this case, the courts may grant an easement that allows the landlocked property access through a neighboring property. An easement by necessity typically requires that the dominant and servient estates were once part of the same property.


As mentioned previously, prescriptive easements are created through long-term use without explicit permission from the property owner. The specific requirements for establishing a prescriptive easement vary by jurisdiction, but generally involve continuous, open, notorious, and adverse use of the property for a set period.

Easement Disputes

Easements, or the right to use another person’s property for a specific purpose, are an essential aspect of property law. However, disputes can arise between the easement holder and the property owner. Some of the most common causes of these disputes include unclear boundaries, overburdening the easement, interference with the easement holder’s rights, and abandonment or termination of the easement.

Common Causes of Disputes

Easements should be precise and definite enough in their description for practical use. However, sometimes the terms may still be unclear, leading to disputes between the parties.

  • Unclear Boundaries: An easement dispute can arise when the boundaries of the easement are not clearly defined or are ambiguous. This can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts between the property owner and the easement holder regarding the extent of the easement and the easement holder’s rights within those boundaries.

  • Overburdening the Easement: Another common cause of disputes is the overburdening of the easement. Overburdening occurs when the easement holder exceeds their rights, putting excessive strain on the land or property owner. For example, if an easement allows for a neighbor to access a shared driveway, it would be considered overburdening if the neighbor regularly parks multiple vehicles, causing significant inconvenience to the property owner.

  • Interference with the Easement Holder’s Rights: In some cases, the property owner may interfere with or hinder the easement holder’s rights. This can include physical obstruction or restricting the easement holder’s access to the easement in any way. Interference can lead to disputes when the property owner believes they are within their rights to impede or restrict the easement holder’s use, while the easement holder believes their rights are being unreasonably limited.

  • Abandonment or Termination of Easement: Easements can theoretically last indefinitely, but they can also be terminated or abandoned under specific circumstances. If either party believes the conditions for termination or abandonment have been met, a dispute may arise over the continuation or cessation of the easement.

Legal Remedies

There are several legal remedies available to resolve easement disputes, including injunctions, damages, and declaratory judgments.

  • Injunctions: One common remedy for easement disputes is the issuance of an injunction, which is an order from the court requiring a party to either take specific action or to stop a particular activity. In the case of easement disputes, an injunction may compel the property owner to remove an obstruction interfering with the easement holder’s rights or order the easement holder to cease overburdening the easement.

  • Damages: In some cases, the resolution of an easement dispute may involve monetary compensation for any harm caused by the breach of the easement agreement. Damages can be awarded to reimburse the injured party for any financial losses incurred or to compensate for physical harm to the property resulting from the dispute.

  • Declaratory Judgment: Lastly, parties to an easement dispute may seek a declaratory judgment from the court. A declaratory judgment is a legal determination that resolves questions about the rights and obligations of the parties involved in the dispute. For example, a declaratory judgment may clarify the boundaries of an easement, confirm the termination of an easement, or establish whether a particular use of the easement constitutes overburdening.

In summary, easement disputes can arise from various circumstances, including unclear boundaries, overburdening, interference with easement holder’s rights, and abandonment or termination of the easement. The legal system offers several remedies to resolve these disputes, such as injunctions, damages, and declaratory judgments. It is crucial for both easement holders and property owners to understand their respective rights and obligations in order to avoid or resolve conflicts effectively.

Resolving Easement Disputes

Easements are legal rights to use another person’s land for a specific purpose, such as access to property or utility lines. Disputes often arise between landowners who disagree on the extent or nature of an easement. Resolving these disputes involves reviewing easement documents, negotiating or mediating the dispute, and, if necessary, litigating in court.

Reviewing Easement Documents

The first step in resolving an easement dispute is to review the relevant easement documents. These documents can help determine the existence, scope, and limitations of the easement.

  1. Deed: A deed is a legal document that transfers ownership of property from one person to another. Deeds commonly contain easement provisions that explain the rights and obligations of the property owner and the easement holder. Review the deed to identify any easements and to determine their specific terms.

  2. Title Report: A title report is a document that summarizes the history of a property’s ownership, including liens, encumbrances, and easements. A title report can reveal the existence of easements that were not disclosed in the deed. Review the title report to identify any additional easements and to confirm the information contained in the deed.

  3. Survey: A survey is a detailed map that depicts a property’s boundaries, structures, and other improvements. Surveys are often used to determine the exact location and dimensions of easements. Review the survey to determine if the disputed area falls within an easement or if there are any inconsistencies between the recorded easements and the actual use of the property.

Negotiation and Mediation

Once you have reviewed the easement documents, you may be able to resolve the dispute through negotiation or mediation.

  1. Direct Negotiation: In direct negotiations, the affected parties communicate with each other to reach a mutual agreement. Both parties should clearly understand their respective rights and responsibilities under the easement and attempt to reach a compromise that is satisfactory to both sides. It is advisable to document any agreement in writing and have it signed by both parties.

  2. Attorney-Assisted Negotiation: If direct negotiations fail, it may be necessary to involve attorneys who can provide legal advice and help facilitate negotiations. Attorneys will typically exchange correspondence, draft proposed agreements, and provide legal guidance throughout the negotiation process. In some cases, the attorneys may be able to reach an out-of-court settlement that resolves the dispute without the need for litigation.

  3. Mediation: Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution that involves the assistance of a neutral third-party mediator. The mediator helps both parties discuss the issues, determine their priorities, and develop a workable resolution to the dispute. Mediation is usually faster, more flexible, and less expensive than litigation. If both parties agree to the terms of the mediation, they can enter a binding agreement to resolve the dispute.


If negotiation and mediation efforts fail to resolve the easement dispute, litigation may be necessary. Litigation is a formal, adversarial process in which the parties rely on the courts to resolve their dispute.

  1. Initiating a Lawsuit: One party will initiate litigation by filing a complaint with the appropriate court. The complaint will detail the facts of the dispute, the legal basis for the claim, and the relief sought. The other party will have an opportunity to respond to the complaint, either by denying the allegations, asserting defenses, or filing counterclaims.

  2. Discovery Process: In the discovery phase of litigation, both parties will gather evidence to support their cases. This may include the exchange of documents, witness testimonies, expert reports, and other evidence relevant to the dispute. Discovery can be time-consuming and expensive, but it is necessary to build a strong legal case.

  3. Trial and Judgment: If the parties cannot resolve their dispute through negotiation, mediation, or pretrial motions, the case will proceed to trial. At trial, both parties will present their evidence, call and cross-examine witnesses, and make legal arguments. After the trial, the judge or jury will render a verdict and, if necessary, impose a judgment to resolve the dispute.

  4. Appeal: If either party is dissatisfied with the trial court’s decision, they may appeal to a higher court. Appeals generally focus on matters of law, rather than issues of fact, and involve a review of the lower court’s decision. The appellate court may affirm, reverse, or remand the case for further proceedings in the lower court.

Resolving easement disputes can be a complicated and time-consuming process. It is essential to understand your rights, explore all available options for resolution, and, if necessary, seek knowledgeable legal representation.

Preventing Easement Disputes

Easement disputes can lead to lengthy and expensive legal battles among neighbors. It is crucial for property owners to take preventive measures to ensure that such conflicts do not arise. By following specific guidelines, people can avoid misunderstandings, build better relationships with their neighbors, and protect their property rights.

This section offers some helpful tips to prevent or resolve potential boundary issues, including proper documentation, maintaining good relationships with neighbors, and regular monitoring.

Proper Documentation

One of the most essential aspects of preventing easement disputes is ensuring that all relevant documentation is accurate and updated. This includes developing clear and thorough easement agreements and recording them with the local government or land registry office.

Clear and Detailed Easement Language

An easement agreement defines the rights and limitations of each party involved. It is critical to use concise and straightforward language to avoid any misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the terms. This means specifying the exact location of the easement, its dimensions, the purpose for which it is granted, the duration of the agreement, and any maintenance or improvement responsibilities.

It is also advisable to include a precise legal description of the dominant and servient tenements in the agreement. This ensures that there is no ambiguity regarding the properties involved and helps to prevent future disputes.

Finally, it is essential to have an experienced attorney review the easement agreement to ensure that it complies with all applicable laws and regulations.

Recording the Easement

Once the easement agreement has been drafted and signed by both parties, it is crucial to record it with the county recorder or land registry office. Recording the easement ensures that it is enforceable and provides public notice of its existence. This helps prevent future disputes by informing any potential buyers or other interested parties of the easement’s conditions and restrictions.

Maintaining Good Relationships with Neighbors

Good relationships between neighbors are crucial in preventing easement disputes. Open communication and mutual respect for each other’s property rights can help reduce the likelihood of disagreements and promote a peaceful coexistence.

Open Communication

Maintaining open lines of communication can help prevent easement disputes before they become contentious issues. Periodically discussing the easement and its use can ensure both parties remain informed about each other’s expectations and concerns.

In addition, it is essential to provide advance notice of any planned activities or changes that may affect the easement. This allows the neighbors to discuss potential impacts and address any concerns in a timely and respectful manner.

Respect for Easement Rights

Property owners should respect the rights granted to others under an easement agreement. This includes allowing the appropriate use of the easement, not obstructing access, and refraining from activities that would interfere with the easement’s purpose. Demonstrating respect for your neighbor’s rights and concerns can help prevent disputes and create a cordial environment for resolving any issues that arise.

Regular Monitoring

Regular monitoring of the easement area is crucial to ensure that it is being used appropriately and to detect any violations or potential issues early.

Periodic Inspections

Conducting periodic inspections of the easement area can help identify any unauthorized activities or encroachments before they become major issues. It is essential to document these inspections, noting any unauthorized activities or changes, as evidence to resolve potential disputes.

Addressing Issues Early

If violations or potential issues are detected, it is crucial to address them promptly. Discussing the issue with your neighbor in a respectful and diplomatic manner can often resolve the problem without escalating it into a legal dispute. If necessary, consider involving a mediator or legal counsel to help negotiate a resolution.

In conclusion, preventing easement disputes is crucial for maintaining harmonious relationships with neighbors and protecting property rights. By taking proactive steps to ensure proper documentation, maintaining good relationships with neighbors, and regularly monitoring the easement area, property owners can avoid costly and time-consuming legal battles.

Easement Disputes FAQs

What constitutes an easement dispute?

An easement dispute arises when there is a disagreement between property owners regarding the use, maintenance, or existence of an easement. Conflicts may involve access rights, boundaries, or encroachment upon another’s property.

How can a property owner prevent an easement dispute?

To prevent an easement dispute, property owners should communicate with each other, establish clear boundaries, have a legally binding written agreement, and ensure proper maintenance. Consulting a professional, such as a land surveyor, may also help clarify easement terms.

What legal remedies are available for resolving easement disputes?

Legal remedies for resolving easement disputes may include mediation, arbitration, or litigation. Depending on the specific circumstances, a court may award damages, grant an injunction to prohibit specific actions, or impose an equitable easement for future use.

Can a property owner terminate an easement?

Terminating an easement may be possible if all affected parties agree to the termination, the need for the easement no longer exists, or through a process called “merger” when ownership of the dominant and servient properties is combined. Consultation with a property attorney is advised.

How do prescriptive easements differ from other types of easements?

Prescriptive easements are acquired through long-term usage of another’s property without permission. This type of easement differs from express or implied easements that usually involve a written agreement or specific circumstances. The requirements for establishing a prescriptive easement vary by jurisdiction.

Can adverse possession affect an easement?

Yes, adverse possession may affect an easement. If the dominant property owner uses the easement in a way that fulfills the legal requirements of adverse possession, such as open, continuous, and hostile use for the required time period, the easement rights may expand or extinguish.

About the Author

As a native Washingtonian, Carlos Reyes’ journey in the real estate industry began more than 15 years ago when he started an online real estate company. Since then, he’s helped more than 700 individuals and families as a real estate broker achieve their real estate goals across Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC.

Carlos now helps real estate agents grow their business by teaching business fundamentals, execution, and leadership.

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