Understanding easements in California

An easement is a right granted to an agency to access property belonging to someone else for a specific purpose.

In California, there are four types of easements with varying stipulations and legal protections.

Prescriptive easement

If someone used a piece of private property frequently and for a specific purpose for at least five years, continued use may fall under prescriptive easement even without express permission. For example, if a group of school children crossed a parking lot to get to school every day for years, a new owner may not be able to stop them if it becomes a prescriptive easement.

Express easement

An express easement is typically part of the property deed, and therefore, transfers to a new owner if someone purchases the property. For example, a sidewalk or walking path in front of your home may belong to you and be your responsibility, but the public can use it.

Easement by necessity

If a property owner refuses to grant access to a portion of their property to a person or entity who needs it, the person denied access can petition for an easement by necessity. For example, suppose you can only access a building you own by a private road owned by someone else. If the road’s owner will not allow access, you could petition for an easement by necessity.

Implied easement by existing use

If you previously used a property for a specific purpose, and the new owner tries to stop you, you could receive an implied easement. Consider the private road scenario. You would have to prove you had always used that road.

Easements can be complex, but if you have a property question, you can talk to a professional for answers.