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How do you terminate an easement?

An easement is a property right in which one party can use part of a piece of land legally possessed by another party. In a simple example, homeowner Abigail might allow next-door neighbor Zack to cross her property on a shared driveway so that Zack can get to his house. Another familiar example is a utility easement, in which a power company or other utility has a right to enter other people's property and perform various services on utility lines.

There are several types of easements, including express, implied and prescriptive easements. Note that easements can be affirmative, meaning they allow one party to do something, or negative, meaning they are meant to prevent others from doing something. Preservation easements can protect against certain types of development on a piece of property that is historically or environmentally significant.

But how do you terminate an easement? For instance, if the party who has an easement across your property is no longer using it, how do you terminate that party's right?

Put simply, the answer is that an easement can be terminated through abandonment. In the example of Abigail and Zack above, if Zack builds a new driveway on his own property and no longer crosses Abigail's property to get to his house, Abigail may consider Zack's easement to be terminated.

On a more detailed level, Abigail would be wise to look for more evidence that Zack has abandoned his right. An easement holder should state a desire to abandon the easement, and should also take action to carry out that intent. In this case, it would not be enough for Zack to merely tell Abigail he didn't need the easement anymore, and it might not be enough if he merely showed an intent to abandon it by not using it for an extended period. However, if Zack told Abigail he no longer needed the easement and built a new driveway, Abigail can consider him to have abandoned the easement.

Easements can be very useful in many situations, but they can also lead to disputes between property owners. Landowners with questions about easements should talk to an experienced real estate attorney.

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