Easements can protect your California property or allow access to others

According to The Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, The Conservation Fund - a nonprofit based on the East Coast - purchased a nearly 20,000-acre property in the northwestern region of Sonoma County. In exchange for paying a portion of the $24 million purchase price, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District received an easement across the property, granting - along with additional rights and restriction - public access for recreation.

What is an easement?

As a landowner, you generally have the right to exclude others from using your property. An easement is an exception to that right.

For example, if you own a rural property with a cellphone tower at its center, the cellphone company likely has written authority to use an access road to and from the tower, allowing for maintenance and repairs, etc. The company does not own the land that its access road is on; it merely has the right to drive over your property. This right to use and access your property is an easement.

In the case above, the two California organizations purchased an easement on a portion of The Conservation Fund's forestland. Under the terms of the easement, the public may access the land but does not own it.

Common types of California easements

Easements are different from encroachments, trespass claims and other boundary disputes. Easements in California generally fall into four common types, including:

  • Express: If a landowner expressly agrees in writing to allow the "burden" on his or her land - as in the examples above - an express agreement exists.
  • Implied: Stated simply, an easement may be implied due to a particular situation or circumstance even when there is no written document. Implied easements can arise when a property is subdivided and all of the buyers use the same road to access their lots without obtaining that right in writing.
  • Prescriptive: An individual or entity may obtain a prescriptive easement by using another's property on a regular (but not necessarily a continuous) basis without permission. Seasonal use, such as by farm workers, may be enough to grant a prescriptive easement.
  • Easement by necessity: If a real estate parcel is landlocked, meaning that the owner has no alternative but to cross an adjacent property in order to access his land, a court may grant an easement by necessity.

As you may expect, issues regarding easement rights and other matters of California real estate law can easily lead to litigation. However, property disputes are avoidable.

  • Do not attempt to draft a legally binding easement on your own.
  • Know your boundary lines, and pay attention to who is crossing your property.
  • If you have a question regarding your property, seek answers.
  • Obtain the assistance of an experienced real estate attorney from The Law Office of Ethan A. Glaubiger.