An easement agreement gives someone the right to use property for a specific purpose without transferring the ownership of the property. Typically, this refers to land. It can be either a public easement or a private easement. The difference between the two is who benefits from the easement.
Examples of public easements are roads, utility poles on private property, and railroad easements. Public easements, such as the right to use roads, are often expressly granted. Sometimes a public easement is obtained by eminent domain – the government can require a private individual to allow the use of his or her land. This may be to provide access to public land by traveling over the private property.
Public easements are usually appurtenant easements meaning that they stay with the land. If the property changes ownership, the easement is still valid. The appurtenant easement benefits the land that is adjoining, not the land that carries the easement, and is recorded with the deed.
A private easement agreement benefits private individuals. These can also be appurtenant, staying with the land. An easement by necessity allows a landlocked property owner access to his or her land over the surrounding property. If either of these properties changes ownership, the easement by necessity stays with the land.
An easement in gross does not stay with the land and is between individuals. For example, neighbor A has an agreement allowing current neighbor B to access his forest. If neighbor B sells his property, he cannot sell the right to access neighbor A’s forest. The new neighbor has to make his or her own easement agreement with neighbor A.
Some other important, but unusual, easement agreements are solar, view, and conservation. Solar easements, or right-to-light easements, found in some localities guarantee longstanding owners of buildings with windows the right to continued access to natural daylight. Construction of buildings that interfere with this light is prohibited.
In some areas, view is protected by an easement. Individuals are prohibited from blocking the view of the easement owner. Conservation easements are voluntary easements that restrict the use of a property. The easement may limit the development or business use of a parcel of land and is often written into the deed. It stays with the property if it is sold.
The most important point to remember is that an easement agreement allows someone other than the owner of the property to use the property. This use needs to be clearly outlined and defined so that no misunderstandings arise. When purchasing or selling property, it can be important for a person to research whether there is an easement on the property or not to ensure that there are no surprises after the deal is closed.