Can A Property Owner Block An Easement

Can a Property Owner Block an Easement?

Updated on February 15, 2024

Easements play a crucial role in property law, allowing individuals or entities to access, use, or benefit from another’s property.

In California, easements are governed by statutory and common law, with specific rules and regulations defining their nature, creation, and enforcement.

This article aims to explore the concept of easements, how they function, and whether a property owner can block an easement in California.

Definition and Types of Easements:

An easement is a non-possessory interest in real property that grants one party the right to use another’s land for a specific purpose. Easements can be affirmative, granting a right to use the land, or negative, preventing the property owner from certain activities like building structures that would obstruct a view. There are also easements in gross, benefiting a specific individual or entity, and appurtenant easements, tied to the ownership of a particular piece of land.

Can A Property Owner Block An Easement

Creation of Easements:

Easements can be created in various ways, such as express grant, implication, necessity, prescription, or by government action. An express grant occurs when the property owner willingly conveys or grants the easement to another party through a written document that is typically recorded at the county recorder’s office. Implied easements arise when it is necessary to give effect to the intent of the parties, even if not explicitly stated. Necessity-based easements may be established if a landlocked parcel requires access across another’s property. Prescriptive easements, similar to adverse possession, arise when a party uses another’s land openly and continuously for a specified period without objection.

Common Types of Easements in California:

  1. Express Easement:
    • Definition: An express easement is explicitly granted by the landowner through a written agreement, typically in a deed or a separate document.
    • Example: A property owner may grant an express easement to a neighbor allowing them to use a portion of the land for a driveway.
  2. Implied Easement:
    • Definition: Implied easements arise from the circumstances or actions of the parties involved, even if there is no written agreement.
    • Example: If a landowner sells a portion of their property and the only access to the sold portion is through the seller’s remaining land, an implied easement for access may be created.
  3. Prescriptive Easement:
    • Definition: A prescriptive easement is acquired through continuous, open, and hostile use of another person’s land for a statutory period (usually five years in California) without the owner’s permission.
    • Example: If someone has been using a path across a neighbor’s property openly and continuously for the required period, they may gain a prescriptive easement.
  4. Easement by Necessity:
    • Definition: Easement by necessity is created when a landowner sells or transfers part of their property, leaving the new owner with no reasonable access to the property except through the retained land.
    • Example: If a landowner sells a parcel of land that has no road access, the buyer may have an easement by necessity to use a portion of the seller’s land for access.
  5. Easement in Gross:
    • Definition: An easement in gross benefits a specific individual or entity rather than a particular piece of land.  This type of easement is not tied to a dominant parcel it is tied to a group or individual. 
    • Example: A utility company may have an easement in gross to install and maintain power lines on a property, regardless of who owns the property.
  6. Preservation Easement:
    • Definition: A preservation easement is designed to protect natural or historic features of a property and is often granted to government agencies or nonprofit organizations.
    • Example: A landowner may grant a preservation easement to a conservation organization to prevent future development on their property.
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Functionality of Easements:

Easements grant specific rights but don’t transfer ownership of the land. They can involve a broad range of uses, from driveways and pathways to utilities and view easements.

Easements must be used in a manner consistent with their purpose, and any unreasonable use, interference or overburdening may be subject to legal action.

The party benefiting from the easement, known as the dominant tenement, has the right to enforce and maintain the easement, while the servient tenement owner must not interfere with the granted rights.

Can A Property Owner Block an Easement in California?:

Property owners in California may wonder if they can block an easement on their land. However, blocking an easement can be challenging, as easements are legal rights that come with specific legal protections.

Generally, an owner cannot unilaterally block or obstruct an easement without facing legal consequences. Any interference with the rights granted by the easement may lead to legal action, including an injunction to remove the obstruction and potential monetary damages.

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That said, if a landowner is successful in blocking an easement for at least 5 years then they landowner may be able to unburden the land from the easement via adverse possession.

There are lots of requirements to perfect an adverse possession claim over an easement and for up to 5 years there can be real legal liability for trying to do this. Please see our adverse possession blogs for more details on adverse possession.   

Real world examples:

At Schorr Law we have handled literally hundreds if not thousands of easement disputes. Often times these disputes involve either the easement holder or the burdened property owner taking actions inconsistent with the rights granted in an easement. Here are just a few examples of the cases we have successfully handled:

  • A landowner fencing off access to our client’s property in a rural area of LA County including by using his truck to block areas not fenced off;
  • A commercial property owner overburdening an easement our client’s predecessor had give the property owner when the property owner expanded his use from 2-3 business to over 20+ businesses;
  • A rural owner fencing off easement access;
  • A party benefitting from an easement overusing it with cars and pedestrian traffic.
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Conclusion:

Easements are integral to property law, providing a legal framework for accessing, using, or benefiting from another’s property. They are also a giant source of legal disputes because of the valuable nature of real property in our great state.

 In California, easements are subject to specific rules and regulations, and property owners generally cannot unilaterally block or obstruct established easements.

Property owners should seek legal advice to navigate the complexities of easement disputes and to comply with California Law. At Schorr Law, no two cases are the same. When you come to our office with an easement dispute, we analyze the matter and come up with creative solutions.

You may think there is no creativity in the law – but we have cancelled easements, walled them off, forced people to open their gates and helped our clients obtain their easement objectives for years.

Schorr Law easement dispute attorneys focuses on the intricacies of these types of real estate disputes. Contact us today for a consultation so that our experienced attorneys can help you navigate and find an amicable solution to your real property issues. Call us at 310-954-1877, or send us a message here.

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