Property Law: Questions About the Rights and Obligations Under Easements

The Land and the Law column answers questions about the rights and obligations under easements, including use of roads between properties, property lines, driveways and what title companies won't insure against.

| December 1997/January 1998

The Land and the Law column answers questions about property and legal problems. This issue answers a number of questions about rights and obligations under easements. 

It is apparent from the number of letters we receive that easements are one of the most troubling aspects of living in the country. Easements, to define them briefly, are contracted agreements to use another person's land. Because country roads are so far apart, most country dwellers find themselves concerned with easements in one way or another. Problems occur because many people don't understand their rights and obligations under easements and often tread on the rights of others. When purchasing property, either with an easement over it or served by one, be sure you understand the relevant state laws. Don't rely on the advice of neighbors and friends since many people hold strong beliefs regarding easements but don't know all of the facts. If your realty agent can't give you clear concise information regarding easements, ask him or her to direct you to someone who can.

I purchased 27 acres in the woods. I own and pay taxes on a 26 foot stripof land that leads to my property. This strip of land is also an easement for 5 houses and 2 fields that don't belong to me. The road that is there now is only wide enough to fit one car. I want to put a road there that is wide enough for two cars and I have 26 feet to do it with. My neighbors are all telling me that they all own the road in front of their house and I cannot widen the road because it will be in their front yard then. What they are claiming as their front yard is part of the 26 feet I own. What can I do? 

—Brian Espenschied

Since you actually own the land the road is on, you probably can widen it without permission from your neighbors. On the face of things, it appears the neighbors shouldn't have extended their yards onto your land. They simply have the right to drive over your land to reach their property. It might be a good idea to check with an attorney to make sure none of the neighbors can make a claim to any of the land through adverse possession. The attorney can also tell you if there are any state regulations that affect your proposal.

Another consideration: do you want to widen the road to handle increased traffic due to a proposed development on your land other than a single family residence? If so, you should check your deed(s) to make sure there are no restrictions against your intended use of the land or the road. You should also check for local prohibitive zoning, probably at the county level.

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