Understanding California Easements

Understanding California Easements

GOMEZ LAW, APC Sept. 19, 2022

An easement grants the right to utilize another person's land for a certain purpose, such as exit and entry. However, it is crucial to understand that easements do not grant holders a possessory right. They also do not provide the holder the right to profit from the land or the right to inhabit the property.

Easements are far more prevalent than one might assume — and there are a variety of conditions that may necessitate their construction. For example, many easements are made when a subdivision is developed to allow utility services such as electricity, water, and gas to access a section of the land. In California, typical easements include a roadway that runs across someone's property, enabling neighbor access to their yard and a public road that crosses an owner's land.

Easements are classified into two: dominant tenements and servient tenements. The dominant tenement is the one that benefits from the easement, while the servient tenement is the one that bears the burden. For example, if Neighbor “A” accesses a public road via Neighbor “B”'s land, A is the dominant tenement, and B is the servient tenement.

What Are the Different Kinds of Easements in California?

There are several reasons a landowner would desire to – or be forced to – construct an easement on their property. Notably, some easements are documented while others are not. When landowners sell their property, they may be unaware of the presence of certain easements. Therefore, it is critical to perform a thorough investigation and check the land to establish whether any easements exist on a property you’re interested in.

In California, the following easements may apply to your situation:

Express Easements — An express easement is formed by a written document, such as a will or a deed. It can also be formed when a property owner transfers land to someone else while retaining an easement over it. Express easements can be affirmative:  granting the possessor restricted access to the land. They can also be negative: preventing the holder from doing something with the land, such as installing a fence or constructing a structure that would obstruct a neighbor's view.

Implied Easement by Existing Use — Easements can be formed by past use even if no writing indicates its existence. However, these easements must be strictly necessary for the possessor to enjoy their land.

Easement by Necessity – An easement by necessity may be recognized when a landlocked owner needs to enter and leave their property. For example, if they cannot access a public road, an easement will be granted that permits them to do so by passing through someone else's land.

Prescriptive Easement – A prescriptive easement is produced when someone utilizes another person's property in a specific way for a lengthy period without their consent. To establish a prescriptive easement in California, the adverse use of the land must be open, notorious, and continuous for at least five years. The open element requires the easement user to engage with the land in an open way, which can usually be ascertained by whether it appears the user is doing so in secret. Notoriety goes hand-in-hand with the open requirement and speaks to the owner's notice that the user is on their land and is using it in a way that may one day form a prescriptive easement. This is usually pretty easy to tell-- is the user trespassing when they're using the land?

Continuity can be met by regularly engaging with the land in an ongoing way, depending on the user's purpose for being on the land. For example, a delivery truck coming onto the land only when the user needs to accept it is continuous, so long as the delivery is regular and consistent.

Contact an Expert California Real Estate Lawyer

If you are thinking about constructing an easement or if a dispute has arisen over one, it is critical that you have skilled counsel on your side to safeguard your legal rights. Our knowledgeable real estate attorneys handle many real estate concerns, including easement establishment and appraisal.

Real estate legal matters are complex and frustrating, but we are here to help you make sense of your options and rights through every step of your matter. We are 100% dedicated to your success, so we strive to provide you with accessible, reliable, and client-focused representation. With an office in Los Angeles, we also proudly serve clients in Culver City, Venice, Ontario, and Glendale, California. Contact us by filling out the client form on our website or by calling us at (213) 465-8583.