Easements are one of the most commonly misunderstood topics in the realm of property rights. The actual concept is relatively simple. However, it's one that many people (including many experts on the matter) have a great deal of difficulty putting into simple terms. If you have never heard of such things as prescriptive easements and negative easements, read on for a direct explanation.

What Exactly Does an Easement Consist Of?

The common definition of an easement is " nonpossessory interest in another person's land." But what does nonpossessory mean? Essentially, it means that a person can be granted the right to use part of your land for a specific purpose. However, this does not grant them ownership of the land. The property in question remains yours alone.

What this basically boils down to is that you can give someone the right to use part of your land for personal or commercial purposes. For example, if you have a road that runs straight through your property, you can give a neighbor the right to use that road. The neighbor can thus drive through your property any time they wish to. However, this doesn't mean that they now own the road.

What Types of Situations Would an Easement Be Useful In?

Easements are useful in a wide variety of situations. Some of these might include, but would not be limited to, the following:

  • The use of private roads that cut across your personal property.
  • The right of a phone or cable company to install a tower or other piece of equipment on your property.
  • The right of an oil or energy company to drill or store equipment on your property.
  • The right of a neighbor to store supplies on your land.
  • The right of a neighbor to allow animals to graze on part of your land.

Who Benefits From a Relationship Established by an Easement?

While, in theory, both parties are supposed to benefit from an easement, there may be certain conditions in which the arrangement definitely favors the person who has managed to obtain it. Land that is negatively affected by an easement is called a "servient estate." Land that is positively affected by an easement is known as the "dominant estate." These descriptions also apply to the property holder who is affected by the arrangement, as well as the person who benefits from it.

What Are the Two Major Types of Easements?

The two major types of easement are known as prescriptive easements and negative easements. A prescriptive easement describes a situation in which a person gains the right to use a part of your land through their regular use of it. This does not mean that they gain ownership of the land, only that they may use it as often as they wish for certain stated purposes. This right is normally non-transferable.

A negative easement is a situation in which you, as the owner of the land in question, are obligated not to use your property in certain ways. For example, a negative easement may bar you from building structures on your property that block sunlight or the normal flow of water through the area. You may also be prohibited from drilling for oil or gas on your property.

What Do You Need to Know About Easement Conditions on Your Property?

Before you sign an agreement to purchase a piece of property, you need to discover if there are any negative or prescriptive easements involved. You don't want to be in a situation where you suddenly discover activity occurring on your land that you are powerless to do anything about. You also don't want to be in a situation where you are not allowed to put up a structure on your land, such as a barn in your back yard. Make sure to thoroughly read your property rights agreement before you sign it.