May 26, 2023


In this article, the reader will learn about easements, which are legal rights to use another person’s property for a specific purpose. The article covers different types of easements, such as affirmative, negative, and various common easements like right of way and utilities easement. Furthermore, the creation, scope and use, transferring, and termination of easements will be discussed, as well as methods for resolving easement disputes.

An easement is a legal term used to describe the right to use, access, or traverse someone else’s property for a specific purpose. It is an interest in real property that allows one person (the easement holder) to use or control a part of another person’s property (the servient estate) for a particular purpose, without possessing or owning the land. Easements are typically granted by a property owner to a neighbor, utility company, or government agency for various reasons, such as access to a road, utility line installation, or preservation of natural resources.

Elements of an Easement

There are several elements that must be present for an easement to be legally valid. These include:

  1. Dominant and Servient Estates: For an easement to exist, there must be two separate parcels of land or properties involved: the dominant tenement (the property that benefits from the easement) and the servient tenement (the property burdened by the easement).

  2. A Specific Purpose: Easements must have a specific purpose, such as allowing access to a landlocked parcel, permitting the installation and maintenance of utilities, or preserving a view.

  3. Permissible Use: The easement’s use must be lawful and not violate any laws or regulations. For example, an easement for illegal activities would be invalid.

  4. Written Agreement: In most cases, easements must be in writing and include a clear description of the easement’s location, purpose, and the rights and obligations of both parties. This agreement is typically recorded with the local land registry office to ensure that future property owners are aware of the easement.

  5. Intent: Both parties must have intended to create an easement at the time the agreement was made.

Types of Property Involved

There are two types of property involved in an easement: the dominant tenement and the servient tenement.

Dominant Tenement

The dominant tenement is the property that benefits from the easement. It has the right to use the servient estate for a specific purpose. The owner of the dominant estate does not own the land over which the easement exists but has the legal right to use it within the scope of the easement agreement.

For example, a property owner may grant an easement to a neighboring landowner to access their landlocked property. In this case, the landlocked landowner’s property would be the dominant tenement, as it benefits from the easement agreement by gaining access to the road.

Servient Tenement

The servient tenement is the property over which the easement exists and is burdened by the easement. The owner of the servient estate must permit the easement holder to access or use their land for the specific purpose outlined in the easement agreement.

Continuing the example of the landlocked property, the property owner who grants the easement for road access would be considered the servient tenement, as their land is being used to provide access to the neighboring property.

It’s essential for both parties, the dominant and servient tenement owners, to understand their rights and obligations related to the easement. Generally, the easement holder (dominant tenement owner) has the responsibility to maintain and repair the easement area, while the servient tenement owner must not obstruct or interfere with the easement holder’s rights. Both parties should consult the specific easement agreement and local laws for further clarification on their rights and responsibilities.

Types of Easements

Easements are legal rights that allow a property owner (the dominant estate) to use another property (the servient estate) for a specific purpose. There are several types of easements, each with its own unique purpose and set of rules. This article will discuss the different types of easements, including affirmative and negative easements, as well as some common examples.

Affirmative Easements

An affirmative easement is a right that grants the holder permission to use another person’s property for a specific purpose. For example, a landowner with an affirmative easement might have the right to access a neighboring property to access a well, cross the property to reach the main road, or construct a utility line across the property.

Affirmative easements can be created through several methods, including by express agreement between the property owners, by implication (such as when a property is subdivided and the new owner needs access to the property through the original owner’s land), or by prescription (where the use has been continuous, open, and notorious for a certain period of time).

Affirmative easements are generally transferable, meaning they can be conveyed to the new owner when the holder sells their property. However, the specific transferability of an easement may depend on the terms of its creation.

Negative Easements

A negative easement is a right that restricts a property owner from using their own property in a specific way. Negative easements typically protect the holder from an undesirable action or development on the servient estate that could negatively affect the dominant estate. For example, a negative easement could prevent a homeowner from building a structure on their own property that would obstruct a neighbor’s view or sunlight.

Negative easements can be created through various methods, including express agreement between property owners or by implication if the circumstances necessitate the existence of such a restriction.

Like affirmative easements, negative easements are typically transferable and can be conveyed to the new owner when the holder sells their property. However, the specific terms of a negative easement may determine its transferability.

Common Types of Easements

There are several common types of easements that property owners may encounter or need to establish, including the following:

Right of Way

A right of way easement grants a property owner the right to cross another’s land to access a public road, a body of water, or another part of their own property. These easements are often used when properties are landlocked or when access is otherwise limited or obstructed.

Utilities Easement

Utilities easements allow utility companies or government entities to install, maintain, or repair utility lines and equipment on or across private property. These easements can include, but are not limited to, telephone lines, electric lines, gas pipelines, and water lines.

View Easement

A view easement grants a property owner the right to maintain an unobstructed view over a neighbor’s property. Typically, these easements prevent the servient estate from constructing any structure or vegetation that would block the view from the dominant estate.

Light and Air Easement

A light and air easement protects a property owner’s right to receive natural light and airflow onto their property. These easements may restrict the height of nearby buildings or the placement of structures that could block sunlight or air circulation.

Conservation Easement

Conservation easements are established to protect and preserve natural resources or open spaces. Typically granted to a conservation organization or government entity, these easements restrict the development or use of a property to protect its natural or historic features. Conservation easements can be an important tool for landowners who wish to ensure the continued environmental preservation of their property.

In summary, easements can be crucial legal tools to ensure the proper use and enjoyment of property. Understanding the different types of easements, including affirmative and negative easements, as well as common examples such as rights of way, utilities easements, and conservation easements, can help property owners navigate and protect their property rights.

Creation of Easements

Easements are property rights that allow the holder to use another’s property in a specified manner. The creation of an easement can occur in various ways, each involving different legal principles and procedures. The primary methods of creating easements include express grant, express reservation, implication, necessity, and prescription.

Express Grant

An express grant is the most straightforward method of creating an easement. It involves the owner of the servient tenement (the land burdened by the easement) granting the easement to the dominant tenement owner (the land benefited by the easement). This grant must be in writing and typically takes the form of a deed or a clause within a deed.

The express grant should clearly specify the nature, extent, and purpose of the easement and satisfy the formal requirements for conveying an interest in land, such as being signed, witnessed, and recorded where applicable.

Express Reservation

An express reservation occurs when the owner of a unified parcel of land sells a portion of the property and reserves an easement over the sold parcel for the benefit of the retained parcel. Like express grants, express reservations must be in writing and satisfy the formal requirements for conveying interests in land. The reservation should also clearly specify the nature, extent, and purpose of the easement.


An implied easement arises from the circumstances surrounding the division of a unified parcel of land. Courts may infer an implied easement where the use of the parcel is apparent, continuous, and necessary for the reasonable enjoyment of the land. Implied easements can arise from prior use, known as an easement by necessity or by the intent of the parties to the land division, known as an easement by implication of grant or reservation.


An easement by necessity arises when a landlocked parcel of land would be practically unusable without an easement to access the neighboring land. This type of easement is typically found when a single owner divides and sells parcels of land and unintentionally creates a landlocked parcel in the process. Courts may impose an easement by necessity to ensure that the landlocked owner can access the property.


A prescriptive easement is similar to acquiring property rights through adverse possession. It occurs when an individual uses another’s land in a manner consistent with an easement for a specified period under certain conditions. The essential requirements for a prescriptive easement generally include open and notorious use, continuous and uninterrupted use, adverse or hostile use, and use for the prescriptive period, usually specified by statute.

Easement Scope and Use

Extent and Reasonable Use

The precise scope and use of an easement depend on the terms and conditions of the easement grant, the parties’ intent, and the legal principles governing the interpretation of easements. Generally, easements are limited to the purpose for which they were created and must be exercised reasonably to avoid unnecessarily burdening the servient tenement.

Improvements and Repairs

The responsibility for maintaining and repairing an easement typically falls on the dominant tenement owner, and they may make improvements or repairs necessary for the reasonable use and enjoyment of the easement. However, improvements or repairs that significantly increase the burden on the servient tenement or materially alter the nature of the easement may not be allowed.

Burden on Servient Tenement

The servient tenement bears the burden of the easement and must not interfere with the dominant tenement’s reasonable use and enjoyment of the easement. The servient owner may use their land in any manner that does not unreasonably interfere with the easement; they also have rights of reasonable accommodation, meaning they may make necessary use of the easement area as long as it does not unreasonably interfere with the dominant tenement’s use.


Easements may be limited in various ways, such as specifying a particular time or purpose for the easement or outlining conditions that must be satisfied for the easement to be exercised. These limitations will depend on the terms and conditions of the easement grant, the parties’ intent, and relevant statutes or case law.

Transferring Easements

Easements are an important aspect of property law, as they provide a right to use another person’s land for a specific purpose. An easement is a grant of the right to the use of a parcel of land either for a specific term or in perpetuity. The owner of the easement, referred to as the easement holder, may be a neighboring property owner, a utility company, or any other party who has been granted the right to use the easement. Depending on the type of easement and the circumstances, an easement may be transferred or extinguished through various means. In this article, we will discuss several methods by which easements can be transferred, including assigning, apportioning, or combining the affected properties under common ownership (known as a merger).

Assigning an Easement

Assigning an easement refers to the process whereby the easement holder transfers their rights to use the easement to another party. In many cases, an easement can be assigned, provided that the transfer does not result in an increased burden or change the principal character of the easement, and the parties have not agreed otherwise. When an easement is assigned, the new party becomes the easement holder and assumes all rights and responsibilities associated with the easement.

To assign an easement, the existing easement holder must execute a written agreement, known as an assignment document, that clearly identifies the easement, the property affected, and the new holder. The assignment document should be signed, notarized, and recorded in the appropriate public records office, typically the county recorder’s office, to provide notice to anyone researching the property or the easement.

It is essential to conduct a thorough review of the easement agreement and any applicable laws governing the transfer of easements before proceeding with the assignment of an easement. This is to ensure that the easement can be legally assigned and that the new easement holder will have the desired rights.

Apportioning an Easement

Apportioning an easement occurs when a servient estate (the property burdened by the easement) is divided or subdivided. In such cases, the easement may continue to apply to each new parcel, either partially or entirely, depending on the language and circumstances surrounding the easement. The process of apportioning an easement can be complex and may require an analysis of the specific language used in the easement agreement, as well as consideration of applicable laws and any potentially conflicting interests among the parties involved.

When an easement is apportioned, the rights and responsibilities associated with the easement may also be apportioned among the new parcel owners. For example, if an easement grants access across a parcel of land and that land is later divided, each new property owner might have the right to use the easement for access to their parcel. However, the specific nature and extent of the rights transferred through apportionment will depend on the facts and circumstances of each case.


A merger refers to the situation where the dominant estate (the property that benefits from the easement) and the servient estate (the property burdened by the easement) come under common ownership. When the properties are combined under a single owner, the easement is generally extinguished, as an owner cannot have an easement over their own property.

To extinguish an easement through a merger, a proper legal deed or other instrument is generally required to transfer ownership of the affected properties into a common ownership. The document transferring the property should include a specific provision indicating the intention to extinguish the easement. Once the merger is complete, the easement is terminated, and any rights and responsibilities associated with the easement are considered extinguished.

In summary, easements can be transferred through various means, including assigning the easement to a new holder, apportioning the easement among multiple property owners, or extinguishing the easement through a merger. Each method has its own unique requirements and implications for the parties involved. It is vital to consult with a qualified attorney or professional to review the specific language and circumstances surrounding the easement to ensure a successful transfer or extinguishment.

Termination of Easements

An easement is a legal right that grants one person the use of another’s property for a specific purpose without transferring the ownership of the land. Easements can be created for various reasons, such as access to a neighboring property, utility lines, or a shared driveway. Like other property rights, easements can be terminated or extinguished in certain circumstances. This article will discuss the various ways easements can be terminated, including express release, abandonment, merger, end of necessity, adverse possession, prescription, estoppel, overburdening, and destruction of the servient tenement.

Express Release

An express release is a way to extinguish an easement through a written agreement between the parties involved. This involves the easement holder (who has the right to use the land) and the property owner (whose land is subject to the easement) signing a legal document that explicitly states the easement is being terminated. The document should be recorded in the public land records to give notice to future purchasers of the property. The express release is usually the simplest and most straightforward method of terminating an easement.


Abandonment of an easement occurs when the easement holder demonstrates a clear intention to relinquish the rights granted by the easement and no longer uses the easement for its intended purpose. This can be shown through actions such as erecting a fence or other barrier that prevents access to the easement, or by failing to maintain the easement for an extended period of time.

It is important to note that non-use of an easement alone is not enough to establish abandonment; there must be clear evidence of an intent to abandon the easement.


A merger occurs when the owner of the dominant tenement (the property that benefits from the easement) acquires ownership of the servient tenement (the property burdened by the easement). When the same person owns both properties, the easement is considered unnecessary and is automatically extinguished. However, if the properties are later sold or transferred to separate owners, the easement may be automatically reestablished.

End of Necessity

Some easements are created out of necessity, such as when a landlocked property requires access to a public road. If the necessity for the easement no longer exists (for example, if an alternative access route is acquired), the easement may be terminated. In this case, the termination is based on the changed circumstances and the lack of continuing need for the easement.

Adverse Possession

Adverse possession is a legal doctrine that can result in the extinguishment of an easement. This occurs when someone who does not have a legal right to use the easement takes possession of the servient tenement and uses it openly, continuously, and exclusively for a statutorily prescribed period (usually between 10 and 20 years). If the easement holder does not assert their rights within this time frame, the right to the easement may be permanently lost.


Similar to adverse possession, prescription occurs when the servient tenement owner obstructs or interferes with the use of the easement in a way that is open, continuous, and hostile for the prescribed period. If the easement holder fails to assert their rights during that time, the easement may be extinguished through prescription.


Estoppel is a legal doctrine that prevents someone from asserting a right they previously waived or otherwise indicated they would not enforce. In the context of easements, estoppel may extinguish an easement if the easement holder has led the servient tenement owner to believe that the easement would not be enforced, and the servient owner significantly and detrimentally relies on that representation.

For example, if the easement holder permits the servient owner to construct a permanent structure on the easement and does not object, the easement might be terminated by estoppel.


Overburdening occurs when the easement holder significantly increases the use of the easement beyond its original intent or scope. This can cause damage to the servient tenement or interfere with the servient owner’s use of their property. In such cases, a court may determine that the excessive use constitutes an overburdening and terminate the easement.

Destruction of Servient Tenement

An easement may be terminated if the servient tenement is destroyed or fundamentally altered in a way that renders the easement unusable or unnecessary. This could occur, for example, if a building benefiting from an easement of light is demolished, or if a natural feature that formed the basis for a water easement ceases to exist. In these cases, the easement will typically end because its purpose can no longer be fulfilled.

Easement Disputes

Easement disputes are disagreements between property owners regarding rights, access, and/or usage related to an easement. An easement is a legal right to use another person’s property for a specific purpose, such as access to a shared driveway or utility access. These disputes can be complex, as they often involve competing property interests and legal rights.

To successfully navigate and resolve an easement dispute, it is important to understand the common types of disputes and the various resolution methods available.

Dispute Resolution Methods

There are several methods to resolve easement disputes, including negotiation, mediation, arbitration, and litigation. Each method has its own benefits and drawbacks, depending on the specific details of the dispute and the parties involved.


Negotiation is the least formal and least expensive method for resolving an easement dispute. It involves the property owners engaging in direct discussions to reach an agreement on the issues at hand. This method is typically most effective when the parties have a good working relationship or are willing to work together to achieve a mutually beneficial outcome. To ensure a fair and legally binding agreement, it is advisable to involve legal counsel in the negotiation process.


Mediation is a more structured form of dispute resolution involving a neutral third party, known as a mediator, who helps facilitate the negotiation process. Property owners share their concerns and interests, and the mediator works with both parties to help them develop a mutually acceptable resolution. Mediation can be more expensive than negotiation, as it involves hiring a mediator, but it can still be a cost-effective solution compared to litigation or arbitration.


Arbitration is a more formal and binding method of dispute resolution, in which an independent, neutral arbitrator (or panel of arbitrators) hears the arguments and evidence presented by each property owner and makes a binding decision. This process is more expensive than mediation and negotiation, but it can be quicker and less costly than litigation. Arbitration decisions can be enforced in court if one party does not comply with the terms of the decision.


Litigation is the most formal and expensive method for resolving easement disputes. It involves taking the case to court and having a judge decide the outcome. Litigation can be time-consuming and costly, with both parties typically incurring significant legal fees. It also is a more public process, with the details of the case becoming part of the public record. However, in some instances, it may be necessary for a property owner to seek a court order to enforce their rights or protect their property interests.

Common Types of Easement Disputes

There are several common types of easement disputes that may arise between property owners.

Boundary Disputes

Boundary disputes occur when property owners disagree about the location of the easement and the extent of their respective rights. These disputes often arise when property lines are unclear or when one property owner undertakes construction or development activities that encroach upon or interfere with the easement.

Interference with Easement Rights

Interference disputes involve one property owner claiming that another’s actions are preventing or impairing their ability to use and enjoy their easement rights. This can include blocking access to the easement, installing structures in the easement area, or causing damage to the property.

Quiet Title Actions

Quiet title actions are legal proceedings used to establish or clarify property rights, including easement rights. These actions may be necessary if there is confusion about the existence, location, or scope of an easement, or when one property owner disputes the validity of another’s claim to an easement.

Prescriptive Easement Claims

Prescriptive easement claims arise when one property owner asserts that they have gained an easement by using another’s property openly, continuously, and without permission for a certain period of time. These claims can be controversial and may require court intervention to determine the validity of the claim.

Maintenance and Repair Disputes

Maintenance and repair disputes involve disagreements about responsibility for maintenance, repair, and improvement costs related to the easement. These disputes often arise when an easement agreement is unclear or does not adequately address maintenance and repair responsibilities, or when one party fails to meet their obligations.

Easements FAQs

1. What is the purpose of an easement?

Easements grant limited rights to a non-owner to use someone else’s land for a specific purpose, like access to a road or utility lines. This ensures that the landowner cannot interfere in the granted rights of the easement holder (Traverse Legal, n.d.).

2. How do implied easements differ from express easements?

Express easements are created by written agreement, e.g., a deed, explicitly granting specific usage rights. However, implied easements arise by necessity or prior use, without a written document, based on the circumstances (Traverse Legal, n.d.).

3. Can an easement be terminated?

Yes, easements can be terminated through various methods, including expiration of a set term, mutual agreement between parties, merger of the dominant and servient estates, or cessation of the purpose for which the easement was created (Haymond Law Firm, P.C., 2016).

4. What distinguishes a prescriptive easement from other easements?

A prescriptive easement is created when someone uses another’s property openly, continuously, and without the landowner’s consent or interference for a specific statutory period, effectively gaining legal rights to continue using the land (Haymond Law Firm, P.C., 2016).

5. Can an easement be transferred?

Easements generally run with the land, meaning they remain in effect when the property is sold or transferred, and the rights and obligations of the easement apply to the new property owner (The Judicial Education Center, n.d.).

6. Is a homeowner obligated to maintain an easement area?

The maintenance responsibility usually falls on the easement holder, not the homeowner. However, specific maintenance obligations can be outlined in the easement agreement itself, so it is essential to review the relevant documents (Hanson Bridgett LLP, 2020).

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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