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How Easements Work in New York

Whether your land burdened with an easement or your land holds an easement over someone else’s land, you may be wondering how easements work in New York. An easement is a legal right to use another person’s land for a particular purpose. An easement does not grant the easement holder any right of ownership over the land but is restricted to the use of the land strictly for that purpose.

If you are looking for an easement attorney, we at the Law Offices of Albert Goodwin are here for you. You can call us at 718-509-9774 or send us an email at attorneyalbertgoodwin@gmail.com.

Typically, easements are granted to travel through land of another to access another land, such as an easement of right of way. For example, when a land that is purchased is landlocked, meaning it is surrounded by other lands with no access to a public road, an easement of necessity of a right of way may be granted by the court to allow that land access to a public road.

Thus, that land (the “dominant estate”) will be granted a right of way to cross another person’s land (the “servient estate”) for that particular purpose of accessing the public road. This easement is strictly construed and only grants the easement holder the use of that land for travel from one place to another and for no other purpose.

This strict construction arises from the fact that the law favors the unrestricted use of one’s property. Thus, the easement holder cannot, one day, plant vegetables, put a fence, beautify, or do any other act of possession or ownership on the property covered by the easement, except for that particular purpose granted to him under the easement. When an easement holder does an act that is not an authorized purpose under the grant of the easement, it will be considered trespass.

Most issues regarding easement relate to trespass, abuse and misuse of easement, interference with one’s use of the easement, encroachment termination, abandonment, and damages.

Types of easements

How easements work in New York depends on how they were created or to whom they were granted. For example, easements are created by prescription, by necessity, or by agreement.

When one uses another person’s land for a particular purpose under claim of right with the owner’s knowledge openly, exclusively, notoriously, and continuously for the statutory period, that use can ripen to an easement by prescription. An easement by necessity is an implied easement declared by the court as existing when there is a need for such easement, such as when a property is surrounded by other land with no means of accessing a public road.

Terminating an easement depends on the type of easement. An easement by necessity can be terminated when the need no longer exists. For easements created by agreement, however, it can only be terminated by adverse possession or prescription, by release, by abandonment, or the merger of the servient estate owner and dominant estate owner in one person.

Easements may also be granted to a dominant estate, which runs with the land and is not affected by transfer of ownership, called “easement appurtenant” or to a particular person, which runs with the person and is extinguished upon the death of a person, called “gross easement.”

An example of an easement appurtenant is the easement of right of way described above.

An example of a gross easement, which was more popular in the olden times, is an easement to hike over one’s land or to fish in one’s lake. These types of easements are usually granted to one person and are extinguished upon that person’s death. They are not so commonly granted anymore in current times.

The issues relating to how easements work in New York today relate to its existence, its use and abuse, and termination. Easements restrict a landowner’s use of his own property and can lower its value. For this reason, many property owners who learn about the existence of an easement in their property may find ways of terminating it.

Terminating a New York easement

To terminate a New York easement, we look first into how the easement was created. If the easement was created by agreement, then it can only be extinguished by abandonment, condemnation, adverse possession, merger or with the consent of the owner of the dominant estate. If the easement was created by law due to necessity, there is an additional way to terminate the easement: when the easement is no longer needed.

Abandonment

To terminate an easement, the owner of the dominant estate (the easement holder) should abandon the easement. To prove abandonment, there must be an intention to abandon the easement coupled with an overt act or failure to act. Mere non-use, even if for a long time, does not evidence an intention to abandon the easement.

Condemnation

Condemnation or expropriation is the government’s act of appropriating private property for public use with payment of just compensation. For example, when there is land subject to an easement but the government condemns it in order to build a public road, that easement is extinguished when the government condemns the land.

Adverse possession

Adverse possession occurs when the servient estate owner, the landowner burdened with the easement, blocks the easement in a manner that is exclusive, open and notoriously hostile, preventing the dominant estate owner from using the easement for a continuous period of 10 years. In Spiegel v. Ferraro, 73 N.Y.2d 622 (1989), the Court declared an easement extinguished when the servient estate owner’s tenant erected gates across the easement, exercising exclusive use over the easement for a period of more than 10 years, and the dominant estate owner only demanded the removal of the gates after 10 years. Here, since the period to demand the removal of the gates had lapsed due to the state of limitations, the servient estate owner was able to extinguish the easement through adverse possession.

Merger

Merger occurs when the owner of the servient estate and dominant estate become one and the same. It is akin to a release or consent of the dominant estate owner to extinguish the easement.

Release

Release occurs when the dominant estate owner consents in writing to the extinguishment of the easement.

End of necessity

For easements that were created due to a need, such as a parcel that is landlocked with no access to a public road, when such parcel begins to have access to the public road, the need for such easement terminates and the easement may be extinguished.

Details of how easements work

  1. EASEMENT – a non-possessory interest in land that involves a right to USE another’s land.
    1. Affirmative – most easements are affirmative. (right to do something on servient land)
    2. Negative (5 types) – light, air, lateral or subjacent support, flow of an artificial stream.
      1. Can also be a restrictive covenant
      2. Can ONLY be created expressly by writing signed by the grantor. There is no natural or automatic right to a negative easement.
  • Classifying the Easement
    1. Appurtenant – when easement directly benefits the use and enjoyment of a specific parcel of land. (it takes two)
      1. Dominant tenement – benefited land
      2. Servient tenement – burdened land
    2. In gross – When easement confers only a personal/pecuniary advantage that is not related to his use or enjoyment of his land.
      1. ONLY Servient tenement because land is burdened but not benefited.
    3. Transferability
      1. Appurtenant
        1. Dominant tenement passes automatically, regardless of mention in conveyance
        2. Servient tenement passes automatically unless the new owner is a BFP w/o notice.
      2. In gross – not transferable unless it is for commercial purposes
    4. Creation
      1. By Prescription (Adversely possessing)
        1. Open and Notorious use
        2. Adverse / Hostile (w/o servient owners consent – permission defeats)
        3. Continuous and Uninterrupted
        4. For the SOL
          1. Note – Exclusive possession is not required
      2. Implied From Existing Use
        1. Prior to division of a single tract
        2. An apparent and continuous (Open and obvious) use exists on the servient part
        3. That is reasonably necessary for dominant part, AND
        4. Court determines the parties intended for use to continue after division of the land
      3. By Necessity – landlocked setting
        1. Right of way will be implied by necessity if grantor conveys a portion of his land with no way out, except over part of grantors remaining land.
        2. The owner of the servient estate has the right to choose the location of the easement as long as it is reasonable.
      4. Express Grant – for more than 1 year must be in writing that complies w/formal elements of a deed. (Writing, signed by the Servient estate, identify land)
        1. Can also be created by express reservation.
    5. Scope of easement – determined by the terms of the grant or conditions that created it.
      1. Presumed to be of perpetual duration unless stated otherwise.
      2. The use presumed is that of reasonable development of the dominant estate
        1. e. the development which would likely have been contemplated by the parties at the time the easement was created.
      3. Note – The easement may only be used for the benefit of the dominant estate.
      4. Repairs – The dominant estate is responsible for making any necessary repairs to the easement and may enter the servient estate to do so.
      5. Remedy for Exceeding the scope of the easement – Enjoin the use but does NOT terminate the easement
  • Termination of Easement – (7)
    1. Estoppel – servient owner materially changes his position in reasonable reliance on easement holders oral assurances that easement will no longer be enforced. (Dig a swimming pool where easement was after oral promise)
    2. Necessity – expire as soon as the need ends
      1. If the easement attributable to necessity was nonetheless created by express grant, it will not end when the need ends.
    3. Destruction – Involuntary destruction of the structure in which the easement existed.
    4. Condemnation – Condemnation of the servient estate
    5. Releasewritten release given by easement holder to the servient owner
    6. Abandonment – easement holder must demonstrate by physical action of intent to abandon (Leaving alone is not sufficient)
    7. Merger – easement is extinguished when title to easement and title to servient land become vested in the same person. (no auto revival)
    8. Prescription – Adverse continuous interruption of the use for the SOL period.

If you have any issues regarding easements, whether you are the easement holder or the property owner whose property is burdened by the easement, we at the Law Offices of Albert Goodwin are here for you. We have offices in New York, NY, Brooklyn, NY and Queens, NY. You can call us at 718-509-9774 or send us an email at attorneyalbertgoodwin@gmail.com.