Whether you’re buying or selling a house, easements affect the price of the property. Maybe not on the appraisal, but it limits the use of the land and its perceived value. That’s not the only con though:
- Easements contribute to your estate tax, whether you use them or not
- Yearly inspections are required on the servient property
- Your neighbor might misuse the easement (e.g., parking)
- All the public could be using your easement when only the neighbor is allowed to do so
- As the dominant party, the servient party doesn’t need to comply. They may choose to block the easement regardless of your legal right
It’s worth getting rid of easements if you want to avoid all these issues. And while each case is different, there are many ways to reclaim your land.
4 Ways To Nullify An Easement
The easiest way to nullify the easement is to be the one who benefits from it (the dominant party). But unless you’re the servient party (who shares the land), there’s no reason you would remove an easement. Most people who use them every day don’t even know these exist.
That’s because most easements are implied. There’s no road anywhere around the neighboring property, so the only way to access it is through another one. While these are the hardest to nullify, it’s still possible.
What are your options?
#1 Wait Until Expiration
Unless you’re dealing with permanent easements, all you need to do is wait until it expires. Why get into complex legal issues when you can do nothing? That’s the case of easements in gross and by prescription.
You can go to your county recorder’s office and find out how long the easement will be around. After that date, you can reclaim the land. If you block the expired easement and someone complains about it, your land is protected legally.
The dominant party might try to renovate the easement, which you can decline as the servient party.
#2 Cancellation Agreement
Are you looking for an easy fix without all the legal hassle? Your best option is to talk to the neighbor and negotiate the land. If you can get them not to use the easement, you could later repossess it legally (see point no.3).
If the dominant party agrees, they will need to submit a written property contract. In this express release, they terminate their easement privileges, which can’t be undone. And while they could regain access with a new agreement, it will require the servient party’s approval.
Maybe an energy company can access your property. But you no longer work with them, so you request an easement cancellation.
#3 Proof of Abandonment
Just as implied easements don’t require written agreements, you can repossess and abandoned easement without approval. It doesn’t necessarily mean that people don’t use it. It means that the dominant party abandoned the reasons for which they created the easement:
e.g, Your property was once the only way to their property, but there’s now a second, easement-free way
e.g., The public uses your easement, even though it only allows the neighbor to use it. But then, they move to another property, and nobody has lived there for years
e.g., The rights holder blocks the easement with a construction (proof of abandonment)
e.g., You block the easement, and there are no objections from the dominant party for sufficient time
e.g., The holder fails to maintain the easement, so it becomes unusable
The simplest proof of abandonment is agreement inactivity. You submit your request claiming that the rights holder has abandoned the property. The government may then contact the neighbor to verify the claim, either by mail or in person.
If the dominant party doesn’t respond (usually 10-30 business days), the abandonment confirms.
#4 Doctrine of Merger
Easements exist as agreements between a dominant and servient party. What happens when you acquire the land and become both parties at once? That’s how the merger doctrine allows you to cancel an easement.
When you buy the dominant property, the easement reapplies to yourself. Since it makes no legal sense, it cancels automatically. The only exception for this method is public easements created by necessity.
If merging land removes easements, what happens when you divide it?
You can avoid easements if you divide the new land the right way. But if there’s a landlocked situation, implied easements will appear.
How to Nullify an Implied Easement?
Implied is almost synonymous with necessity, meaning it’s the only way to access the land. You might get away with it if nobody lives on that property. But the government will likely require the easement when listing it.
If you can’t nullify, at least limit the easement as much as possible. Negotiate what they can do and who can use it. If it’s a neighbor, grant them exclusive access.
But what if your property blocks access to public areas? Since you can’t deny access, see if you can decide where to place it. As long as it connects both points, you should be able to pick the most convenient location.
Would you rather have a road that goes straight across your land? Or have it on the edge of your plot?
Instead of asking the government to relocate it, you can do it yourself. Choose the best location, and obstruct everything else, so people are forced to go this way. As it serves its purpose, nobody will complain.
How to Nullify an Appurtenant Easement?
Appurtenant easements run with the land, not the owners, which makes them non-negotiable:
- If the servient party sells the property, the new owner is subject to those restrictions
- If the dominant party sells the property, the new owner gets the easement benefits
Still, you can remove it with the merger doctrine, without having to buy the other home. Both parties can agree to share ownership and divide right after for this purpose. And if they still require an easement, at least they now control how to create the new one.
How to Nullify an Easement in Gross?
“Easements in gross” link the rights to a company or person. To remove them, you can use any of the four shared methods. Dominant parties also lose their rights when deceased, moving away, or failing to renew the easement.
Utility easements, on the other hand, are permanent and expensive to remove. Ideally, the company has either (a) found another easement with the same purpose, (b) abandoned yours, or (c) gone out of business.
It’s not worth removing if they rarely use it. But if they do, you could negotiate the usage rules and relocation.