Understanding the Difference between Easements & Right of Way

by Sandra LeBlanc 08/23/2020

Photo by David McBee from Pexels

At some point, you might come across the terms “easement” and “right of way.” These terms both imply another person or entity may have use of your property. As a homeowner or buyer in the market for a home, you’ll want to thoroughly understand both of these terms and how they can potentially affect you.

What is an Easement?

An easement enables one person to use another’s property for a stated purpose. This could be a public use, such as water, electric or gas utility companies, or for a private one as an agreement between neighbors. There are three primary types of easements:

  • Gross easements: This type of easement allows for a specific person to use your property.
  • Appurtenant easements: This type of easement allows a property to be used for adjoining lands—it stays with the property owner, even if the property is sold.
  • Prescriptive easements: These easements are rights acquired by one person openly using another person’s property without force and without owner permission for a period of time; the amount of time varies by state law.

None of these forms of easements grant any type of ownership to the individuals using the easement rights.

What Does Right of Way Mean?

Right of way is a type of easement, but it works a little differently. What this term means is other people are allowed to pass through your property. The right of way may be a public or private option. For instance, if your neighbor’s house is located behind yours and has no way to reach the main road unless they pass through your property, this would be a private right of way. On the other hand, if a road passes through your property to access a beach, park or other public space, this would be considered to be a public right of way. The right of way has no effect on ownership.

Can Easements Be Terminated?

Some types of easements can be terminated after a specified period of time, however, easements attached to a deed often remain that way in perpetuity, even if the property changes hands. Here are two ways easements can be in placed into effect:

  • A property owner's land borders a lake, but their neighbor’s property doesn’t. Property owner #2 wishes to have access to launch their boat. Property owner #1 could opt to grant their neighbor an easement for as long as they are neighbors with the agreement terminating (i.e. upon death or if the neighbor moves away).
  • Or, property owner #1 could have an agreement added to their deed and property owner #2 does the same, making this agreement a permanent one that would last between future homeowners of either property.

Both easements and right of way can grant others to rightfully use your property. Whether you are selling or buying a home, it’s always important to know if an easement is attached to the deed. If an easement isn’t found on the home’s deed, it’s a good idea to also check public records. Easement stipulations are a complex topic. An established easement could limit what you can do with your property in the future, so always be sure to check before purchasing any property.

About the Author
Author

Sandra LeBlanc

Your #1 Real Estate Professional for Potomac, Maryland and the surrounding area.