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By Ben Lewis
One thing that almost all landowners encounter at some time is easements. There may be easements over a property for various reasons, including public utility easements, shared driveway easements, and water/sewer system access agreements. Most of us are lucky enough to never become embroiled in easement disputes, but for those who do become involved in them, these kinds of property disagreements frequently evoke strong emotions from all involved.
An easement is a non-possessory interest in the land of another that entitles the easement holder to the limited use of another’s land without interference. It is a legal right that may be fully enforced via Tennessee courts, and the landowner subject to the easement may not interfere with the easement holder’s access or use of the easement. There are many types of easements, but the most common form is an easement appurtenant, which is an easement involving a dominant estate and a servient estate. It is the type of easement that most frequently comes to mind where one person enjoys the right to use the property of a neighbor.
Most easements are created in writing, and many are included within the deed a landowner receives when purchasing a property. It is imperative that you understand any and all easements or other property interests another may have over the property you purchase. In many situations, it is likely best to have an attorney review the easement language to help you determine the scope of the easement.
For example, a shared driveway easement may either specifically state the easement holder has access over their neighbor’s land for ingress and egress over the shared driveway, or the easement may specify the area surrounding the driveway and grant an easement over the entire area surrounding the shared driveway. While this may seem like a small distinction, it can have major implications on the easement holder’s rights and ability to access the shared driveway. If the easement holder has access over a larger area, not just specifically the shared driveway, then the easement holder is also granted the ability to cross over all the property owned by her neighbor contained within the easement in order to access the driveway. This minor distinction can create major disagreement when the easement holder begins to travel over areas the neighboring property owner doesn’t want her to.
It is not uncommon for neighbors to have vastly different interpretations of an easement, and because land is normally the most expensive property we own, this difference in interpretation can lead to seriously heated debates and, frequently, litigation. It is always best to (1) be aware of the easements or exceptions to the property you intend to purchase and (2) understand fully the implications and scope of those easements or exceptions. Our attorneys are very experienced in property issues and litigation. It is important to contact an attorney if you feel there could be an issue regarding an easement over your property or if an easement you own is being interfered with.
If you would like to discuss this issue or any other property law questions, please contact our office at 615-570-3047.