June 6, 2023


Easements and restrictions are legal concepts that affect land use and play a crucial role in property ownership. An easement is a legal agreement that allows an individual or entity to use a portion of another person’s land for a specific purpose without owning the land itself.

A restriction, on the other hand, limits or prohibits certain uses of that particular piece of property. Both easements and restrictions are important considerations when buying, selling, or developing land. In this article, we will explore the different types of easements and restrictions and their significance.

Introduction to Easements and Restrictions

Definition of Easements and Restrictions

Easements and restrictions refer to legal agreements between two parties that enable one party to use the land of the other party for a specific purpose. An easement gives a person the right to use a portion of someone else’s property for a specific purpose. Easements are classified into affirmative easements and negative easements.

An affirmative easement allows the holder to use the land of another party for specific purposes, such as right-of-way or access. In contrast, a negative easement restricts the landowner from performing specific actions, such as erecting a fence that obstructs the view of a neighboring residence.

On the other hand, restrictions refer to the limits imposed on the use of land. A restriction may apply to the entire property or to a part of it, such as a portion designated for the construction of a house. The fundamental difference between the two legal agreements is that easement gives someone a right to use property, while restrictions limit the owner’s rights in some way.

The main purpose of an easement or restriction agreement is to protect the rights and interests of people who may or may not own the land. These legal agreements are essential to ensure that people can use, enjoy, and profit from their property without violating the rights of others. Adequate legal knowledge is crucial when entering into these agreements, as they can affect the use and value of the property.

In summary, easements and restrictions are legal agreements that allow the use of land to some extent and limit owner rights in some way. They are entered into to protect the interests of different parties, and to ensure that property ownership and use are efficient and productive. It’s important to have a solid understanding of these agreements in order to make informed decisions regarding land use, agreements, and property ownership.

Purpose of Easements and Restrictions

Understanding the purpose of easements and restrictions is essential for homeowners and real estate professionals alike. The primary purpose of an easement is to grant restricted access to one party while preserving the rights and interests of an adjacent property owner. Easements can be used for a variety of purposes, including providing access to public utilities, permitting necessary maintenance and repairs, and establishing a boundary line.

In contrast, the primary goal of a restriction is to limit or restrict how a property can be used. Restrictions can be put in place for a variety of reasons, including preserving natural habitats, maintaining property values, and preventing the construction of certain types of buildings.

It is important to establish the purpose of an easement or restriction early on in any real estate transaction to ensure that all parties involved have a clear understanding of their rights and responsibilities.

Overview of Easements and Restrictions

An easement is a legal right for a non-owner of a property to use a specific portion of that property for a specific purpose. Easements and restrictions are two concepts that are often used interchangeably, but they are fundamentally different.

While easements allow for the use of someone else’s property, restrictions limit the use of one’s property. Understanding the various types of easements and restrictions is important for property owners and potential buyers alike, as they can affect the property’s value and its potential uses.

There are several types of easements: easements appurtenant, easements in gross, prescriptive easements, and easements by necessity. Easements appurtenant are attached to a property, and they allow the owner of that property to use the easement to benefit another property. Easements in gross are not attached to a property but are instead attached to a specific person or entity, such as a utility company. Prescriptive easements are established through regular use, and owners of the servient property are typically unaware of their existence until they are challenged in court.

Easements by necessity are granted when it is necessary for a property owner to cross another person’s property to access their own property. Restrictive covenants are a type of restriction placed on a property, typically by a developer, to control how the property is used. They can limit the type of home that can be built or what activities can take place on the property.

Zoning ordinances are another common form of restriction, where the local government restricts how the property can be used based on its zoning designation. Overall, understanding the different types of easements and restrictions is crucial for anyone involved in real estate transactions or property management.

Types of Easements

Affirmative Easements

The concept of affirmative easements is essential in property law, particularly in the real estate industry. This type of easement is a legal tool that grants the owner of one property the right to use or access a neighboring property for a specific purpose. The owner of the property that benefits from the easement is known as the dominant estate, while the owner of the neighboring property is known as the servient estate.

There are various types of affirmative easements, depending on the specific use or purpose. For example, an easement for ingress and egress allows the owner of the dominant estate to use a portion of the servient estate as a means of access to the dominant estate. On the other hand, an easement for light and air may entitle the owner of the dominant estate to prevent the owner of the servient estate from building structures that would block the light or air from the dominant estate. Other types of affirmative easements are those for view, support, and irrigation.

One important aspect of affirmative easements is that they must be created through a legal instrument, such as a deed, contract, or will. This means that the easement must be explicitly stated and legally recorded to make it enforceable. Additionally, the terms and conditions of the easement must be clear and unambiguous to prevent any disputes between the parties involved. The duration and scope of the easement must also be specified in the legal instrument, as well as any restrictions or limitations, such as the number of users, the frequency of use, or the extent of the area covered by the easement.

Another essential element in affirmative easements is that they can be terminated or abandoned under certain circumstances. For instance, if the dominant estate is sold or conveyed to another entity, the easement may terminate unless the legal instrument explicitly states otherwise. Similarly, if the servient estate becomes unusable or destroyed, the easement may be extinguished. On the other hand, if the dominant estate fails to use the easement for an extended period, the servient estate may argue that the easement has been abandoned or lost through non-use.

Overall, affirmative easements are valuable legal tools that provide property owners with access or use rights to neighboring properties for specific purposes. As with any legal agreement, creating an affirmative easement must be done with careful consideration, clear terms and conditions, and legal documentation. Property owners must also be aware of the limitations and requirements of affirmative easements to ensure that their legal rights are protected.

Negative Easements

Unlike affirmative easements that allow for property owners to use someone else’s property for specific purposes, negative easements prevent property owners from doing certain activities on their own property that would interfere with a neighbor’s rights. Negative easements typically involve protecting views, light, or air. For example, if a neighbor has a beautiful view of the ocean from their home, they may enforce a negative easement that prevents the neighboring property owner from building anything that would block that view.

Similarly, if a neighbor relies on the light that comes in from a specific direction for their solar panels to function properly, they may enforce a negative easement that prevents the neighboring property owner from building anything that would obstruct that light. Negative easements can be perpetual and binding on future property owners, but they can also be limited in duration. While negative easements may seem like a limitation on property owners’ rights, they are an important tool for ensuring that neighbors can enjoy their property without interference.

Prescriptive Easements

Prescriptive easements are a type of easement that is acquired after a prolonged or open use of another person’s land. The legal principle behind this kind of easement is “use it or lose it,” so the owner of the land must actively try to prevent the usage. This means the use must be open, visible, continuous without interruption, and adverse or against the owner’s interests. These requirements make proving a prescriptive easement challenging in court, as the party seeking the easement must prove all the elements of the easement.

However, courts may grant prescriptive easements if the use of the land was made in good faith and without the intention to harm the owner’s rights. To understand better, suppose a person has been regularly using a neighbor’s unused road or driveway to access their property without permission. After several years of open use, this person may legally obtain the right to use the road or driveway without the neighbor’s permission through prescriptive easement.

Prescriptive easements can pose significant challenges to landowners, as they may unknowingly grant an easement by failing to prevent open use of their land. It is critical for landowners to monitor their property to avoid relinquishing their rights to prescriptive easements unwittingly.

Easements by Necessity

Easements by necessity are also known as implied easements. They come into play when a property owner has some particular need for an easement due to the property’s location. For example, if a landlocked property has no other way to access a public road, an easement by necessity can be used to grant access. Similarly, if a property owner requires access to a utility, such as electricity or water, from a neighboring property, but there is no explicit easement, an implied easement can be created.

The legal requirements for an easement by necessity are that the dominant property owner must demonstrate that the easement is vital for the reasonable use and enjoyment of their property, that it was created by strict necessity, and that it is continuous and permanent. The easement must also be established at the time of the severance of the dominant and servient estates. Easements by necessity differ from other types of easements, as they do not require the parties’ explicit agreement and arise from the circumstances in which the property is situated.

Types of Restrictions


Covenants are contractual agreements that dictate how a property can be used or maintained. They can be either positive or negative restrictions that run with the land for the benefit or burden of all subsequent owners. Positive covenants require the property owner to do something, such as maintaining a certain type of landscaping or paying dues to a homeowner’s association. Negative covenants restrict the owner from doing something, such as building a structure that exceeds a certain height or using the property for commercial purposes.

Enforcement of covenants can be challenging, especially if the burdened property owner refuses to comply. The most common methods of enforcement are by the homeowner’s association or through litigation in civil court. Breach of covenant can result in a variety of consequences, including legal action, fines, and even eviction. It is important to carefully review and understand the covenants associated with a property before purchasing it, as they can significantly impact its use and value.

One type of positive covenant commonly found in residential areas is a maintenance covenant. Maintenance covenants require property owners to keep their properties in good condition, which can help to maintain property values and prevent blight. On the other hand, negative covenants, such as zoning or deed restrictions, limit the use of the property for specific purposes. For example, zoning restrictions often dictate the type of structures that can be built in an area, while deed restrictions may prohibit certain activities or uses of the property.

Covenants are a crucial aspect of property ownership and can affect the way an owner utilizes their land. Following covenants is essential to the reputation and value of the land. Understanding the types of covenants and how they can be enforced is vital for any property owner or purchaser. Careful attention should be paid to all applicable covenants to ensure that the use of the land aligns with the imposed restrictions.


Conditions are limitations or requirements placed on the use or development of a piece of land. They are often included in the sale agreement between the buyer and seller, or in the zoning regulations for a particular area. Conditions can be either affirmative or negative.

Affirmative conditions require that the property owner take certain actions, such as maintaining a fence or planting trees, while negative conditions prohibit certain activities, such as building a structure taller than a certain height or operating a business on the property. Conditions are enforceable through legal action and can result in penalties or fines if not upheld.

Zoning Restrictions

Zoning Restrictions refer to the legal limits imposed by a local government on the use of a property, commonly known as zoning codes or ordinances. These restrictions dictate what types of activities can be conducted on a property and the structures that can be built on it. Zoning is usually divided into several categories of use, including residential, commercial, and industrial. The aim of zoning is to regulate the use of land to preserve public health, safety and welfare and to prevent the development of incompatible land uses.

Zoning laws may also address the height, setbacks, and density of buildings to ensure a degree of uniformity or consistency in an area. In addition, zoning laws often address environmental concerns by regulating minimum lot size, parking requirements, noise levels, and pollution control measures.

Zoning restrictions are usually enforced by the local zoning board or department, which has the power to issue permits, impose fines, and take legal action against property owners who violate the ordinances. To ensure compliance, municipalities often require that developers and property owners submit detailed site plans and attend public hearings before construction or renovation can be approved.

Deed Restrictions

Deed restrictions are contractual agreements made between property owners and real estate developers that dictate how the property can be used. These restrictions are typically written into the deed when the property is sold, and they run with the land indefinitely, meaning they are passed on to future owners. Deed restrictions can cover a wide variety of uses, such as restrictions on the minimum or maximum square footage of a house, minimum setbacks, use restrictions (e.g. no commercial use), and even aesthetic restrictions, such as color schemes and exterior designs.

Enforcing deed restrictions is typically the responsibility of a homeowners association, which is made up of the current property owners within the development. Violations of deed restrictions can result in fines, liens or even legal action to compel compliance. While deed restrictions can sometimes be seen as overly restrictive, they can also help maintain property values and protect the investments of property owners.

Easements and Restrictions FAQs

What is an easement?

An easement is a legal right to use a particular property for a specific purpose. An easement can be created by a written agreement, by prescription, or by necessity.

What are the types of easements?

There are several types of easements, including easements appurtenant, easements in gross, and prescriptive easements. Easements appurtenant and easements in gross are granted by agreement, while prescriptive easements are granted by use.

What is an easement appurtenant?

An easement appurtenant is an easement that runs with the land, meaning it is tied to the property itself, not the owner. It benefits one parcel of land while burdening another, allowing the property owner to use portions of another’s property for specific purposes.

What is an easement in gross?

An easement in gross is an easement that is not tied to any particular property but is instead granted to an individual or entity. It does not benefit another property but instead creates a personal right to use another’s property.

What are restrictions?

Restrictions are limitations placed on property use that are either imposed by local zoning regulations or covenants added to deeds. They can include prohibitions on certain types of building materials, building sizes, or land use.

What is a negative easement?

A negative easement is a type of restriction that prohibits an activity or use of the land. Examples include restrictions on signs, noise, or building height. Negative easements do not typically allow a right to use the land, but rather prevent certain uses.

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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