Once all the required legal papers are passed and the deal is consummated, a buyer becomes an owner, and hopefully all will remain well and peaceful for many years to come. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. Another common problem real estate owners may face someday, relates to encroachments on their land by an abutter (neighbor) or accusations by an abutter that his land is being unlawfully encroached upon by you. These issues fall under the law of easements. Very briefly, an easement is simply the right of use in another's land. Easements do not confer ownership rights in another's land, but only a limited, defined type of use of that property. Easements "benefit" one adjoining landowner, and "burden" the other adjoining landowner. They typically "run with the land," meaning they remain on the deed as the property is bought and sold. Common examples of easements include the right to walk across the land of another in order to enter or leave your own property, when no other reasonable means of access exist. Another common type of easement is that benefiting utility companies, which commonly retain easements over private property for the limited purpose of maintaining telephone poles and wiring. Most easements are "of record," which means they are readily identifiable and discoverable when buyers and sellers of property conduct their title examinations at the relevant Registry of Deeds.
Sometimes, however, a neighbor will claim an easement over the property of an abutter, based upon reasons other than anything on record at the Registry of Deeds. In these cases, it's usually just the person's opinion that they have developed rights in another's property based upon many years of continued use. This is commonly known as "adverse possession," or an "easement by prescription." In such a case, you will either be the one who is asserting such a claim against a neighbor, or you will be the person defending such a claim from a neighbor. As you would expect, this is not a pleasant or pretty scene. Easement claims and land use disputes present complex legal issues. They are commonly very stressful, very complicated, very time-consuming, and, typically, very expensive. We have represented many easement and land use cases, and are very familiar with the legal arguments and strategies used to both bring and defend these types of claims. If you or someone you know is facing such a legal problem, contact us and we can provide you with the expert counsel and guidance you need.