A Quick Guide: Property Easements in California

Updated on October 24, 2016
An easement can allow the public to walk on private property
An easement can allow the public to walk on private property | Source

Why Care About Easements?

Simply put, you should. Easements give or take away a right of usage and this is important to the quality of life and the enjoyment you have of your property. Easements are also something that cannot be ignored.

If you don't know if there are any easements on your property, you can check with the county where the property is located. You can also hire a title company or attorney to check for you. If you are in the process of purchasing a property be sure to carefully review the title work regarding easements and their locations.

If there is anything that you are uncertain about, ask the title company, your real estate agent, a surveyor. or an attorney as to your rights in any given situation. Although an attorney visit may cost you up front, in the end it may save thousands of dollars and a lot of heartache because of a misunderstood easement.

"Appurtenant" or "In Gross"

There are many things to understand about easements in California. This article should help you have a better general understanding of two classifications of easements—in gross and appurtenant—as well as their associated rights under California law as set forth in our civil codes. California Civil Code Section 801 contains the statutes regarding easements. I have included a portion of that statute listing of a variety of situations that are common in both appurtenant and in gross easements.

An easement as defined by the California Department of Real Estate is "a right, privilege or interest limited to a specific purpose which one party has in the land of another." Easements are categorized as an easement appurtenant, a transferable real property interest, such as a driveway across an adjacent parcel, or an easement in gross, a personal right, which is usually not transferable. An example of an easement in gross could be a grazing, fishing or hunting right on someone's property.

Easements are an encumbrance or burden to one property and a benefit to another property or person. The parcel that benefits from the easement is the dominant tenement and the property that is burdened with the easement is the servient tenement. Easements have an effect on the title to a property and are an appurtenance to real property.

An appurtenance is anything attached to the land (a fixture or right) that is to be used with the land for its benefit and that transfers with the property. It is the rights and privileges that belong to and transfer with a property. Some typical appurtenances are water rights and mineral rights, An appurtenance is said to run with the land because it transfers with the property to the new owners at the same time the property is transferred. Appurtenant easements transfer with the deed and are recorded easements.

The most common easement in California is the utility easement, an express gross easement. This give the right of access to public and private utility companies for maintenance, repairs, installation, or upgrades to services. These are recorded gross easements and are appurtenances, meaning they transfer with the property. This type of easement is usually set up by the land developer in the initial subdividing; it can, however be designated and recorded later. The utility company does not own an adjacent parcel or dominant tenement but maintains a right to put up power lines or poles. They have an express easement, a personal right of access, and it encumbers the servient tenement.

Loren Goldman First American Title Interview

A Portion of California Civil Code 801

This is what is listed in CA Civil Code 801. This is not a list of types of easements, but things that may become easements. The following land burdens, or servitudes upon land, may be attached to property as incidents or appurtenances, and are then called easements:

1. The right of pasture

2. The right of fishing or hunting

3. The right of taking game

4. The right-of-way

5. The right of taking water, wood, minerals, and other things

6. The right of transacting business upon land

7. The right of conducting lawful sports upon land

8. The right of receiving air, light, or heat from or over, or discharging the same upon or over land

9. The right of receiving water from or discharging the same upon land

10. The right of flooding land

11. The right of having water flow without diminution or disturbance of any kind

12. The right of using a wall as a party wall

13. The right of receiving more than natural support from adjacent land or things affixed thereto

14. The right of having the whole of a division fence maintained by a coterminous owner

15. The right of having public conveyances stopped, or of stopping the same on land

16. The right of a seat in church

17. The right of burial

18. The right of receiving sunlight upon or over land as specified in Section 801.5

Just for Fun

Does Your Property Have an Easement?

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In Gross or Appurtenant

How Is an Easement Created?

There are four basic ways to create an easement.

  1. Express grant
  2. Implied grant
  3. Prescription
  4. Necessity

There are several ways to create an easement that fall under those four ways. Here are some:

  • By contract in a sale or transfer of a property
  • By grant, either implied or express
  • By reservation
  • If a parcel is land-locked
  • By condemnation
  • With continued long term use
  • By mutual agreement
  • By implication
  • Through eminent domain
  • By estoppel
  • Through the court system
  • Fences or shared walls
  • Driveways

Easement Basics

  • Easements should be recorded in the county where they are located.
  • Easements must have definable limits which should be precise and specific in the description being recorded
  • Easement can not be expanded by the dominant tenement without the consent of the servient tenement
  • Easements may be terminated or abandoned causing a loss of the easement right

"Easement Day" Song: Summary of Easements

A Fun Recap

In this song she sings about 20 years of uninterrupted usage to acquire a prescriptive easement. That is true in another state but not in California. In California it is only 5 years of uninterrupted use of the desired easement to obtain a prescriptive easement. The rest of the song is fun and in the genre of the cartoon learning fun of the Schoolhouse Rock Videos. I think she recorded it to help her remember what she was learning in college.

Just For Fun

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I would love your comments and suggestions. Thanks!

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      A Mensch 9 months ago

      I live on a dead end easement road with three residents. The owner of the second home (nasty man) walks up ans down the roadway for hours to be a nuisance. The property at the end has fenced, gated and posted private property. So far nasty man hasn't walked past the property line. But now that nasty man is having issues with owner of last house he has threatened the owner that he will walk in front of his house. Does nasty man have public easement access right to cross property line on posted property?

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      Andrew E. Karsh 11 months ago

      If I am the Dominant tenement and my driveway to access my property is a granted easement across my neighbors land as the Servient Tenement. My question is do I have the right to install a gate on my driveway solely for the purpose of my own security as long as it does not interfere with my neighbors access to his property? Also what if my neighbors build their fence 6 inches inside the 20' wide driveway easement? Why do they have a right to build on my easement and I do not to build my own gate?

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      JosephP7 16 months ago

      Hi there:

      Anybody know if the definition of "public utility easements" covers homeowners' private sewer laterals and connections to a sewer main? I thought the definition was for an easement belonging to the public utilities, but my neighbor says her private lateral is covered and she is going install it across my side yard. Would love any advice.

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      jennifer 17 months ago

      can i park a camper on an shared easement driveway?

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      Ken 18 months ago

      May a HOA sell an easement?

      If yes, what is required for the HOA to sell an easement?

    • profile image

      Jude 19 months ago

      Can you tell me the best way to go about finding out the value of a light and air easement in Los Angeles CA? A neighbor wants to "purchase" one from me so when I sell another owner can not build a second story and block their views. I am thinking about it but really would like to know the true approx value since they're not offering very much. I was also told the value of their home would also be affected if their view is blocked. We live in the hills. Thank you for ANY advice you can give me. These people are somewhat obsessed with getting one from me.

    • Dorsi profile image

      Dorsi Diaz 2 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

      I'm curious if you would know the answer to this question. Behind our house is an alleyway which we have used for over 50 years to access our backyard, where we have stored cars, boats, etc. The alleyway has a commercial building on which the city has now allowed to be rezoned to residential. Most of the people on our block also have access to this alleyway which they use to access their backyards too. Now a developer wants to squeeze in 35 town-homes onto the property and there will be 3-4 stories of people looking into our yard, and they will be taking away our access to our yards. The home I live in a single family story home and so are all the rest of the homes. Do you think I have any recourse? Thanks.

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      Melissa 4 years ago

      Can you clarify - is a easement required to run utility lines from the main branch to your home, e.g. the over head power lines to the electrical panel.

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      Rtimes 6 years ago from Placerville, California

      Thank you so much for you comment, Nancy. I am very glad to know that you found the information useful. Thank You. Please check out my other Rtimes Hubpages. I look forward to hearing from you again.

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      n. Williams 6 years ago

      Great article with helpful info!