I recently received a call from a prospective client who was planning to purchase an expensive parcel of real estate in Walnut Creek. While reviewing a final map and preliminary title report, she noticed several easements of record on the property and wondered what exactly an easement was, and what significance it would have on her potential acquisition of this particular parcel of real property.
While you could devote literally hundreds of articles to just the topic of easements alone (and its numerous related sub-issues), the short answer is that an easement is an incorporeal, intangible property right that gives its owner the right to use the land of another person or to prevent the other property owner from using the land. In plain English, an easement grants a property right to the grantee on someone else’s property. While the subject matter of easements is virtually limitless, the most common involve access, utility, and ingress/egress rights between adjacent property owners.
In a typical situation, a property owner can still use that portion of real property that is subject to an easement so long as the use does not unreasonably interfere with the “use and enjoyment” of the grantee, though the terms of the written easement agreement will control and can provide otherwise. The text of the grant of easement document is always a good starting point when determining what the respective rights, obligations, and permitted uses are between the parties.
In the experience I just recently had, the Walnut Creek easement issue involved a public utility easement and an access easement granted to an adjacent property owner. The impact of the easements, both fairly common and minimally restrictive, was studied and analyzed and the client ended up completing the purchase once they determined that the easements would not materially impact their plans for the property post-Closing.
When analyzing easement related issues, each situation is different and always fact-specific, the ultimate legal conclusion typically hinging on the terms and conditions of the written document granting the easement rights, common law, as well as statutory authority in California setting forth the rights and obligations of both parties under an easement agreement.