How Easements and Rights-of-Way Work

When Others Can Use Your Land

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An easement gives others the right to use your land for a certain purpose, even when it’s owned by you. If there is an easement on your land, you own the property, but must allow other people to use it or access it.

Key Takeaways

  • Some properties have easements on them, meaning that another party besides the owner has the right to use or access part of it.
  • Easements are common and usually listed on a deed, but you may have to do some digging to find out if there is one on your property.
  • There are different types of easements, and each one may have a different implication for a property owner; some may impact property value.
  • Doing some research and working with a real estate attorney will help you discover any easements so there are no surprises down the line.

How an Easement Works

When you buy property, there might be a nearby landowner or business that needs access to portions of your land. They may need to pass through your property to get to their own property or conduct business. An easement is a legal ability to use someone else's land for a certain purpose.

In many cases, a transferable easement is listed on a deed or other legal documents. This is disclosed when buying the property.

An easement exists if there was permission given for an activity to occur at some point. It can be granted by landowners and written and recorded at a county clerk's office. It can also be implied as necessary without any written action. When registered and recorded, the easement becomes an encumbrance, or a claim, on the land's title.


Check for easements before building on any part of your land. This information doesn't always appear on building permits. Applying for a building permit will not always return results for easements in public record searches.

Example of an Easement

Suppose that Ms. Smith owns a tract of land that borders a national forest. The forest is a great place for hiking, climbing, and fishing. Mr. Scott, an avid hiker, lives next door to Smith, but his land doesn't touch any of the national forest land. In order for him to access the forest, he has to walk or drive to a public entry point. This ensures that he avoids trespassing.

Smith and Scott are good neighbors, so Smith decides to grant Scott an easement to save him some trouble. She has it recorded at the county clerk's office. This easement allows all present and future owners of Scott's property to cross Smith's land to access the forest. The easement becomes a part of the deed for both properties.

Smith could grant an easement to another person to do the same without adding it to her deed. In most cases, this type of easement would expire at a certain time or upon a certain event, such as the death of the person who benefits from it.


Smith could verbally give Scott permission to cross her land. In that event, Smith would not grant an easement, but she should talk to a lawyer to confirm that she has not given any of her property rights away.

Types of Easements

Easements can be classified into two main categories: easement in gross and easement appurtenant. 

Easements in gross are given to people or companies for a specific purpose. If property ownership is transferred through sale or other legal methods, a new easement agreement must be made. Easements appurtenant are attached to the land, not the person. In other words, these easements will carry over when land is sold to a new owner.

In addition to this classification, the following are some of the most common types of easements.

Right-of-Way Easement

Right-of-way is a type of easement that allows someone to travel across another person's land to get somewhere else. It can be offered to one person, several people, or the public. This type of easement is attached to the property.

Utility Easements

Utility easements are the most common type of easement property owners have to deal with. These give utility companies the right to use a certain portion of the property.

Conservation Easements

Conservation easements occur when a landowner agrees with a land trust or government agency to limit the use of the property, for land or historic preservation. It must provide some sort of public benefit, such as protecting the water quality, scenic views, or wildlife habitats. In Washington, D.C., for example, about 6% of properties are protected by private historic preservation easements.

Prescriptive Easements 

Prescriptive easements are created when someone has been using a portion of your land without your permission. This gives them the right to keep using your land, as long as the length of use meets certain requirements.


Each state has its own laws about prescriptive easements. The statutory time limit could last between 10 and 20 years.

Easement by Necessity

These occur when someone has a legal right to use a section of your land, as long as there is a valid need for it. This often happens when there's a home or property with no direct access to a road, except through another property.

How Easements Affect Homeowners

The landowner who grants an easement can't build structures within a prescribed area surrounding it, and they also can't use fencing to hinder access. Any activity that blocks the use of the easement is prohibited.

Easements may also create problems for property owners if they aren’t aware that easements exist or know exactly where they are. For instance, a homeowner might install fencing, but then be forced by a utility company to take it down if it restricts access to something the company needs to get to.


Know where all easements are, as well as what restrictions are associated with them, before buying a property. Look over the title commitment or preliminary title report before closing.

How Easements Affect Property Values

The impact of an easement on the property value will depend on the degree of interference permitted by the easement, said David Reischer, Esq., real estate attorney and CEO of, in an email with The Balance. For instance, an easement that permits regular and steady traffic across a parcel and that interferes significantly with the enjoyment of the property by the owner might have a significant negative effect on the value of the property.

Then again, Reischer said, not all easements are bad, and some easements may actually increase the value of a property. If the easement provides a benefit to the community, it can actually enhance the value of all properties in the neighborhood.

The other thing to remember is that although easements can affect property values, if you buy land that already has an easement, the land's value already includes the easement.

If someone buys an easement on your land at a later date, a real estate appraiser conducts a valuation of the property. The appraiser adjusts the value based on the rights conveyed and how the easement use might affect the property surrounding it.

If the property is strictly residential, easements do not affect property value in most cases. In many situations, the easements are along the edges of the land and are only for utility management.

Looking Up Easements on a Property

Not every easement is included within property deeds. Some easements are recorded as part of public records. One simple way to identify easements is to get the property records from the county courthouse.


You can talk to a real estate lawyer to find out if, how, and when an easement can be terminated.

If you don't find anything, walk around the property you plan to buy. Look for stormwater drains, tire tracks, evidence of someone else using the land, or any other signs that an easement might exist.

You can also ask the title company to give you a copy of any easements it has. Not every title company provides copies of recorded easements, but they are often required to notify owners that an easement exists. Easements are also not covered by title insurance.

In some cases, easements are excluded on Schedule B of your title policy commitment or preliminary title report. In most cases, there is a note that includes where to find the documentation.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do I remove an easement from my property?

Because easements "run with the land," it means they automatically transfer to you as the property owner when you buy the land. Easements can be terminated in a variety of ways, but there are detailed legalities to doing it correctly. Sometimes it's as simple as dissolving an easement where the land in question has been abandoned. In other cases, the process may be more complicated or not possible, such as if it is a public easement. If you want to terminate an easement on your property, it's a good idea to speak with a lawyer.

How wide is a utility easement?

Utility easements vary in size depending on the specific utilities running through the easement. A basic electric underground easement may only be 10 feet wide, while a sewer easement could be as much as 30 feet wide. Check with your local utility provider for more information.

What happens if I build on an easement?

Generally, you can build on easements as long as the building doesn't interfere with the purpose of the easement. You may need to seek permission before building or even digging in a utility easement, though, so check with any interested parties to avoid any issues.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. State of Florida. “The 2022 Florida Statutes.”

  2. PWC Fayettesville’s Hometown Utility. “2020 Easement Brochure.”

  3. District of Columbia Office of Planning. “Historic Preservation Easements.”

  4. Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. “§ 1010.209 Title and Land Use.”

  5. Garden City Georgia. “What Are Easements?

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