As everyone knows, an easement is a right of one property owner to use land owned by another person. Easements filed with the county become binding on the property owner and their successors in interest. Because easements have such a lasting effect, it is important to have good counsel in negotiating or drafting easement rights so as not to adversely impact the marketability of the property or unreasonably limit its usefulness.
Conflict often arises over easements where they are not obvious by looking at the property and successive owners try to build over them or restrict access in a way that is not consistent with the original easement agreement.
Usually easements are the result of an agreement between the property owners, or their predecessors. A prescriptive easement (or “easement by prescription”) on the other hand is an easement obtained by one owner without the voluntary assent of the other owner.
A prescriptive easement is based on prior continuous use, and grants a right to continue using the property based on such prior use. In other words, in certain circumstances, if you use your neighbor's property to access your own property for a long enough period of time, you might acquire easement interest in their property.
The law of prescriptive easements derives from the concept of adverse possession in which one party may actually acquire full ownership of land in similar circumstances. As such, Minnesota courts use the legal elements of adverse possession subject to the inherent differences between such claims. The elements necessary to prove adverse possession are well established and require a showing that the property has been used in an actual, open, continuous, exclusive and hostile manner for 15 years. See Ehle v. Prosser, 197 N.W.2d 458, 462 (Minn. 1972). In the case of prescriptive easements though, the requirements of continuous use and exclusivity are relaxed due to the transient usage involved in easements as opposed to outright possession.
Easement claims often involve neighbors and they are often contentious. Given the number of elements discussed above and the likelihood of incivility, it is always wise to consult with an attorney before taking unilateral action. Hance Law Firm is perfectly suited to deal with easement related issues and any inquiries are welcome. Contact Hance Law Firm at their Wayzata office for a free consultation.
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