What is a Road Easement?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A road easement is an easement which allows for the construction and use of a road on a parcel of land by someone other than the property owner. Road easements may be private or public, depending on who needs to use the road and why. The easement gives people the right to use the road, but it does not give them right of possession. There are a number of settings in which road easements can be established, and the law can sometimes get extremely complicated when it comes to the details of easements.

A road easement allows for the construction of a roadway on land owned by a third party.
A road easement allows for the construction of a roadway on land owned by a third party.

The classic reason to have a road easement is to allow someone access to a property which would otherwise be landlocked. Not every parcel adjoins a public road, and in these cases, people need some way to get from the public road to their property. A road easement gives them the right to pass over property which belongs to someone else. Easements are also sometimes used to create shared driveways, with the understanding that two or more properties both need access to the public road, and thus benefit from sharing an easement. This type of road easement is known as a private easement.

Public authorities can mandate a road easement if they feel that it is in the best interests of the public. For example, the government might want to run a public road across a property, rather than around it, in which case it can go to court to attempt to secure an easement. In this case, the result is a public easement which anyone has the right to use.

The law surrounding easements can get complicated. It is possible to create an easement through customary use, as for example when people have been used to crossing someone else's property to reach their home for a set period of time, or through a verbal contract with a neighbor which can later be used to demonstrate that an easement is in place. Easements can also be created in court, or attached to a property title at the time that the property is subdivided, to ensure access to public roads for all the parcels.

When researching the purchase of a property, it is important to understand any and all easements attached to the property, and how they work. It is also advisable to check the documentation associated with the property to confirm that property lines are properly marked, and to see if there are any customary uses which could be considered easements even though they are not formally recorded. Otherwise, people may find themselves surprised when they see people utilizing their property. Consulting a lawyer may be advisable if there are easements attached to the property, to learn about any rights and responsibilities associated with them.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

A utility easement is similar to a road easement except that a utility easement allows only for the construction and maintenance of utility lines within a specific area of land. These can be difficult to obtain because people are very protective of their property. If you're building a new home, be certain you can get the utility easements you need before purchasing the property. Likewise, if you're purchasing an existing home, check to be sure any utility easements for your lines are on file in your local clerk's office.
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