Easements are often known as a right-of-way. Easements are the right to use part of another person’s land for a specific purpose. A simple example is the right to travel on a private road to gain access to otherwise inaccessible land. The easement holder does not have a right to possess the land – it is only a right to access the servient property for a specific purpose. The easement holder is also prohibited from using their access in a way that would unreasonably disrupt the landowner’s enjoyment of the property.
Easements are usually created by a contractual agreement or negotiated through a deed transfer as part of a property sale. But easement rights can also arise without a written agreement such as a right of way for a land-locked property (“implied easements”), or when a landowner fails to stop continued trespass for 21 years (“easement by prescription”).
Property owners often care deeply about protecting the boundaries of their land and preventing unauthorized use. Neighbors who encroach on land violate a sense of pride and ownership that comes with owning land. Some encroachment disputes arise when the boundary is clear but the adjoining landowner believes the encroachment is justified. Other disputes result when the neighbors simply cannot agree on the location of the boundary.
Boundary problems become legal problems when one landowner excludes the adjoining owner or regularly accesses the disputed area. Common examples include erecting a fence, building a carport, or placing a shed. When an adjoining owner excludes a neighboring owner for a long period of time, the adjoining owner may eventually take title to the disputed area (known as “adverse possession”). If the adjoining owner accesses a right of way for many years, such as using snowmobiles over a path to a ski-slope, the owner may permanently acquire a right of way (known as an “easement by prescription”).
Court of Common Pleas Judge Gene Cohen rendered an award in favor of a Philadelphia resident caught up in an unfortunate title dispute. Our client engaged us when she discovered that an investment property she purchased was previously sold to another buyer. Both our client and the prior purchaser were caught up in this dispute because the unscrupulous seller sold the same property in both 2005 and 2012.
Our client purchased the property as an investment in 2012 after a title search was conducted. The title search did not reveal the 2005 purchase because the buyer did not record the deed and did not reside in the property. Once our client recorded her 2012 deed, the prior purchaser immediately rushed to record his 2005 deed. The parties later initiated litigation which resulted in a trial.