Easements: What Are They and How Do They Work?

Categories: real estate


If you have ever attempted to buy a piece of property with a significant amount of land, or one that other neighbors use with any frequency, you may be familiar with the term easement. An easement is a type of legal right that appears quite frequently in real estate dealings, and it is an important concept to understand in order to protect your property rights.

An easement gives another individual the right to use your land in some capacity. You do not lose your own right to that land, but must share it with this other party. Easements can take many forms. For example, an individual may have an easement that allows them to:

  • Walk across your property
  • Park on your property
  • Run utilities through your property
  • Build something on your property

Easements always have a particular purpose that limits how the easement can be used. For example, if the purpose of the easement is to allow an individual to get from their home to a main road, then the easement can likely be used as a walking path, or to build a small road that a car can go across. But the easement does not allow the owner to build a home on that route, or dig up the route and put in a swimming pool. The use of the easement must always be consistent with its purpose.

Another unique element of easements is that they run with the land, and not with the individual who owns the easement. This means that when the land changes hands, and there are new owners, the right to the easement stays with the land – thereby passing to the new owners. So if you buy a piece of property that had an easement on it, it will still have that easement when you purchase it. This is why it is important to carefully review real estate records for easements.

Types of Easements in North Central Wisconsin

Easements take many forms, and some are more common than others. Perhaps the most common types of easements are municipal and utility easements, which are required by local governments and utility providers in order to ensure that they are able to deliver necessary services.

For example, utility companies may need an easement to put pipes that will carry water or sewage under your property. Or a local government have an easement that allows it to use and maintain the curb area near your property that touches local roads.

These types of easements are quite common, as everyone needs utility services, and have very little impact on a property owners day-to-day life. You’re unlikely to encounter these utilities at all unless engaging in a major construction project on your property.

Easements that are not government or utility owned are known as private easements, and they are typically owned by another private property owner or business for the purpose of doing some particular action on your land. As mentioned above, these easements are often granted for access purposes – to allow someone else to construct a path or driveway to reach a certain area that they need to reach.

However, private easements can also be granted for construction purposes, or for solar access, and depending on the purpose of the easement, they can limit a property owner’s ability to take certain actions on the land. Because private easements are usually recorded, you can undertake a search of possible easements before agreeing to purchase a certain piece of property.

Easements by Necessity or Prescription

Less common, and less widely known about, are easements for necessity or by prescription. These types of easements will not necessarily be written down or recorded, but nonetheless can significantly impact your ability to use your property as a property owner.

Easements by necessity arise on the rare occasion where a neighbor must be able to use your property in order to access their own home. For example, if you own a home in the mountains and your neighbor lives in a home that has no driveway or road leading to her property. She may have a right to use your driveway, or a path through your property to get to her home.

While you may want to maintain your privacy, courts believe in the fundamental right of an individual to access their own home, and you may have no choice but to allow your neighbor to use your property to do so.

Similarly, easements by prescription arise when an individual adversely possesses an easement over your property. This happens when the individual openly and notoriously uses your property in a certain way for an extended period of time, and thereby acquires an easement over your land. For example, if you neighbor walks across your property every day to reach the river and has done so for years, this may create a prescriptive easement.

Disclaimer: This Article Is Not Legal Advice.

Never rely on an article for legal advice as the law frequently changes, information may not be accurate, there may be exceptions to a rule, and reliance may be detrimental. Always consult one of our experienced attorneys for competent, current, and accurate legal advice.

Wisconsin Real Estate Attorneys Who Recognize The Importance of Easements

When dealing with real estate issues, it is always important to know what other individuals or entities may have claim to your property. Sometimes this can be fairly easily determined through a title search, or a review of recorded documents at your local records office. In other situations, it may require more diligence to determine whether an easement by necessity or prescription exists.

While these types of investigations or searches can seem daunting, they’re quite important so that you can fully understand your rights as a property owner.

At Crooks, Low & Connell, S.C, our real estate attorneys know how to review documents for applicable easements that may exist on property you are considering purchasing, or have purchased, and may be able to advise you on how these easements may affect your rights or plans for the future. For more information, or to schedule a consultation, contact our Wausau, WI offices online or at (715) 842-2291.