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Housing Counsel

Utilities, Neighbors Receive Easements to Use Your Land

By Benny L. Kass
Saturday, March 26, 2005; Page F04

Q We have just settled on our new house. The title attorney gave us a copy of the title report and there is a reference to a "utility easement" in favor of the local telephone company. It looks as if this easement is somewhere in our back yard. What is an easement? Does this affect us? We plan to expand our house in the back and also have a vegetable garden there.

AAn easement is defined as "an interest in land owned by another that entitles its holder to a specific limited use or enjoyment."

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The law of easements is complex. There are many different kinds of easements, including rights of way, prescriptive easements, easements by implication and easements by necessity.

The most common is a right of way, which generally is accomplished by a grant from one land owner to another. Example: There is a road that runs north to south. On the west side of the road there is a river. Between the river and the road there are two houses. House A sits next to the road, and House B sits between House A and the river. For the occupants of House B to get to the road, they must cross the land owned by the owner of House A.

Generally, that is accomplished by a deed of easement, which the owner of House A grants to the owner of House B. The easement deed would spell out the rights of the occupants of the riverfront house to cross the land owned by House A. Sometimes the easement is simple: "B has a right of way over property A."

Some easements are more specific: "B has the right of way for ingress and egress over five feet of property A, as delineated in a survey which is attached to this deed of easement."

Many easements are recorded on the land records. That puts the world on notice -- and especially the owner and subsequent owners of House A -- that their house is subject to the easement.

But sometimes, there is no recorded easement. That's where the legal fights begin. The owner of House B goes to court and asks the judge to issue an order requiring that an easement be created over House A. That is known as an easement by necessity -- it is necessary that House B get the easement so that the owner can get to the road.

Most utility companies have arranged with landowners to grant easements for the purpose of installing and maintaining the lines or cables that provide the utility service to the home.

For example, Anne Arundel County's Department of Public Works recently issued a "customer update" in which such easements were discussed: "An easement is permission to use an area of land while the property owner maintains ownership. . . . Utility easements entitle the utility companies to run their pipes, wires, cables, conduits, etc. across that portion of your property both over and under the ground. . . . Although land within the easement belongs to the property owner, the easement gives the utility the right to place its pipes, cables, wires, etc. on the property and also to access them for maintenance, repair or replacement."

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