Know Your Rights in a California Property Easement
When you buy a piece of property in California, you understandably assume that said piece of property is all yours, to do with what you will. This includes allowing certain people onto your property and kicking others off at your discretion. While this is the case with many pieces of property, there are others that are subject to “easements.” A California property easement is an agreement—written or unwritten—that allows someone else the legal right to use your land for certain purposes.
Believe it or not, most peoples’ properties are subject to one form of easement or another and they do not even realize it. This blissful ignorance is the very point of a property easement—to grant a non-property owner permission to use a piece of someone else’s land without raising any controversy. However, every once in a while, a property owner will learn of the easement and try to take legal action to have it removed. If you are a property owner and if you have just learned of an easement on your property, it is important that you understand what rights you do and do not have as a landowner.
Types of California Property Easements
To make matters more complicated, there are several types of property easements in California. In order to properly address your legal dispute, you must understand what type of property easement is at play.
- Utility Easements: Utility easements are the most common type of easement and allow a utility company—such as a gas, electric, or water company—to use and modify your land as necessary. For instance, if an electric company needs to put a power line across your property, which they must support with a telephone pole, they will be allowed to do so.
- Easements by Necessity: Easements by necessity allow people to use your land only when necessary. For instance, if the neighbor’s house is behind yours, they and their guests may use your property to get from the main road to your home.
- Private Easements: Private easements are less complicated, as the property owner themselves must sell the use of their land to another private party in order to be effective. For instance, if a homeowner approaches his or her neighbor and asks the neighbor to not grow trees within 100 yards of their home so that they can install solar panels, and if the homeowner agrees, an easement would be instated to disallow the neighbor from growing tall trees in their yard.
- Prescriptive Easements: Prescriptive easements require no contract, just habit. For instance, if your neighbor crosses your land every single day to get to work, and if they cause no trouble in doing so, they have unexpressed permission to do so.
(For a detailed definition of each type of California property easement, click here.)
Can I Dispute a Property Easement?
When most property owners learn of an easement on their California land, their first instinct is to fight it. After all, a property easement is essentially an agreement (oftentimes not of one’s own making) that allows others to legally trespass on another’s private property. Unfortunately, the best chance you have of discontinuing an easement on your property is to prove that no easement existed prior to your purchasing the land. Thoroughly review your land title and deed for any indication of an easement; if you cannot find any, bring your case to a Pleasanton property dispute lawyer, who will help you determine the best course of action for ending the existing easement.
If the easement is a prescriptive easement, you can nullify it by creating a written or formal contract with the individual utilizing your property. In the contract, you can allow them the use of your property only under express circumstances, and nothing more.
Unfortunately, if you want to nullify a utility easement, a private easement, or an easement by necessity, you will have much more difficulty, even if there are no prior easements in your title or deed. This does not mean that you do not have legal options—it just means that your dispute will require much more attention and aggressive legal representation.
Consult a Pleasanton Real Estate Attorney
At Garcia & Gurney, ALC, our real estate attorneys routinely help property owners in the Pleasanton, Alameda, and Contra Costa areas fight for the legal rights to their own land. Easements are sensitive matters, especially if a piece of property has changed hands several times before a property owner either becomes aware of the easement or tries to put an end to it. Because of their sensitive nature, it is best to consult with a Pleasanton real estate attorney before pursing any legal remedies to a California property easement. To schedule a consultation today, call 925-468-0400.