An easement is defined as the legal right of an individual to use a certain portion of another individual’s property for a particular purpose. Easement laws differ from state to state, but in general there are four major types of easement: utility, private, prescriptive, and easements of necessity. As explained on the website of Gagnon, Peacock & Vereeke, P.C., determining the nature of the easement is often the subject of dispute because easement law is poorly-understood by most people.

Utility easements are usually built into a title to provide access to utility companies and the government as needed. Private easements are when the property owner sells a part of the property to another person for a particular purpose, such as a private sewer easement. Prescriptive easements, on the other hand, are the open, persistent and continuous use of the property for a particular purpose for a prescribed period of time. Easements of necessity, as the term implies, are when an individual has no choice but to go on another person’s property, such as to gain access to their own property. This is sometimes called right of access.

Another type of easement which can be quite devastating to a property owner is adverse possession. It is possible for a trespasser to acquire a legal right of ownership over a property if the occupancy is without permission, exclusive, and continuous over a prescribed period of time, usually the same as for prescriptive easement. However, acquiring a prescriptive easement does not confer legal ownership to the user, nor does it require the user to pay property taxes.

In many cases, the property owner has no choice or has given permission for a particular use of the land, but retains control and ownership of the property when it is not being used for the prescribed purpose. Disputes arise when property owners feel that the trespass or easement is illegal, and the situation is frequently complex enough to require the knowledge of a real estate lawyer to sort it out during mediation or in court.