IN THE INTEREST OF FULL DISCLOSURE: The subject of easements is very complicated. I am giving you a layman’s explanation of some of the types of easements that exist. If you ever enter into a real estate transaction where the subject of easements comes up and you feel that you need some clarification, contact an attorney who is knowledgeable regarding the subject of easements. Most real estate licensees have a nominal grasp of the subject of easements.
In the simplest of terms, an easement is the right to have access to and/or across a property that the easement holder does not own. For example, If I own a piece of land in the country that is on a county road and there is a tract of land behind me with no road frontage, I may elect to allow the owner of that land to go down the side of my land to get to his land. I may make it a roadway that is 20 feet wide. The land may even be surveyed to make it precisely clear where the easement is. This kind of easement, in many circumstances, can be created with a reversionary clause whereby the easement may be terminated.
An individual who has an easement is known as the dominant tenant; dominant because he has dominion over the property of another. The owner of the land that the easement crosses is known and the servient tenant. If a tract of land that is landlocked was once part of a tract that does have public road access, then, under Texas constitutional law, the owner of the landlocked tract may assert his right to access to the road, if the owner of the land fronting the road is unwilling to grant an easement. This is known as an “easement by necessity”. An easement of necessity may not be canceled by the servient tenant. If a parcel of land is landlocked and was never part of a parcel facing a public roadway, then it is “landlocked”.
There are also what are known as “prescriptive easements”. If an individual has “openly and hostilely” crossed the property of a landowner for a significant period of time – perhaps five years – then that individual has the right to continue to cross the property. This is why Rockefeller Center in New York is always closed for one day each year so that those crossing through the center cannot assert the right to always be able to cross the property.
If you own a home, there are, more than likely, several easements across your property. Typically they are for utilities, phone lines and the like. These are called “easements in gross”. They basically allow, as an example, the power company to run electrical lines across the property. They do not let the power company spend time going to the easement for any reason except to do line repairs and the like.
Typically, when an individual is purchasing property, the title company will make mention of any easements that are recorded in the public record that affect the property.