Property disputes can arise for a large number of reasons, but easements are a common source of contention among owners of adjoining properties. An easement is a legal form of permission for access to or use of someone else’s property or along shared boundaries. Easements can get granted to an individual or get attached to a deed for a specific piece of real estate.
It is possible for private corporations, the government or individual property owners to seek and secure an easement against the property of another as a way of guaranteeing access and use of a particular piece of real estate. Easements allow people to walk or drive on a property, install pipes or wires for utilities, and to use common or shared spaces and facilities.
How do disagreements about easements occur?
Sometimes, neighbors will grant easements to one another to allow for ease of access to the property. Shared driveways that are actually on one side of the boundary are a perfect example of an easement that benefits one property owner for access. In some cases, neighbor disputes about easements occur because of a disagreement about the specific terms or rights it confers. Issues can also arise when one party no longer recognizes the easement.
If your neighbor has recently sold their property, the new owner may not have read the information about the easement and now resents your presence on their land or in their daily life. It’s also possible that a conflict between you and your neighbor has led to them ignoring or pushing back against your use of the shared driveway. If your neighbor isn’t honoring the terms of the easement, you may need to take steps to protect yourself.
Will the loss of the easement affect your use of the land?
The Washington courts look at many factors in a dispute between neighbors about an easement. For example, was the easement official and recorded against the property, or was it merely an informal agreement between neighbors? Did the easements apply specifically to the property, or was it granted to a specific individual and was therefore not subject to transfer?
There are many factors that can influence whether or not your easement rights persist and what kind of action you can take against a neighbor who refuses to respect an existing easement. The impact of the loss of the easement will also be a factor. If you simply have to begin clearing the snow from your own driveway, the courts may not consider that a serious issue. However, if you can no longer access your home or other improvements on your property, that could be an issue worth pursuing.