There are three distinct types of easements that can benefit or burden your property use, depending on your point of view.
- An easement in gross such as a public utility easement. This type of easement affects nearly every property. Since these easements are generally recorded in public records, knowledge of their existence is available to purchasers of the land. In some cases, they are obvious, such as overhead power lines. Occasionally an underground easement (a water or sewer line, for example) goes undisclosed. The possibility is one reason why land purchasers should have title insurance to protect them from possible problems.
- An easement appurtenant benefits an adjacent parcel, such as a driveway that you share in order to give neighbors access to their property. These easements are generally created by court action and recorded.
- Prescriptive easements arise when people use property without permission, in spite of the fact that a homeowner has asked them to stop. A prescriptive easement can be created if the property use is open, well known, hostile, and continuous over a specified number of years, which varies by state.
If the above requirements are met, a claimant might be able to bring a title lawsuit against the property owner, as the Interior Trails Coalition did against the Alaska couple in the case described in this article.