An easement is a grant of a right to use all or a portion of the real property of another. For example, your property may be subject to easements for water lines, sewer lines, electric lines, gas lines, or you may have an easement to use someone else’s driveway. Easements can last as little as a year or be endless. They can cover little strips of land or cover acres. Because there are so many different kinds of easements it is important to play close attention to the language in the easement before signing.
It is also important to remember that because the landowner is conveying a right to use the real estate, an easement will often restrict the owner’s use of his or her own land. Typically, the landowner is not allowed to block or build upon the land dedicated for the easement.
Most landowners never have problems with the easements on their land. However, disputes often arise when the easement is not clear and the landowner is unaware of their obligations under the easement. This was the case in Corrigan v. Illuminating Company. Dennis and Mary Corrigan owned property in Brooklyn, Ohio. The Corrigans property contained a tree which was located about 22 feet from the center of adjacent power lines, but the canopy did not come into contact with the power lines. On July 1, 2004, the Corrigans received a letter from the Illuminating Company stating that the Illuminating Company intended to remove a tree from the Corrigan’s property because it was violating the easement because it was within 25 feet of the power lines. The original easement entered did not contain a 25-foot limitation but instead simply stated that the power company had “full authority to cut and remove any trees, shrubs, or other obstructions upon the above-described property which may interfere or threaten to interfere with the construction, operation and maintenance of said transmission lines.” The power company felt that trees within 25 feet of the power lines constituted a threat of interference.
After receiving the letter, the Corrigans personally paid to have the tree pruned and to have a slow growth hormone implanted to prevent any potential interference with the power lines. Almost 4 years passed and there were no problems. However, the power company demanded that the tree needed to be removed because it was within 25 feet of the power lines.
Ultimately, the Corrigans were forced to go to court and obtain a temporary restraining order and then proceed to trial to obtain an injunction prohibiting the power company from removing the tree. The trial court granted the injunction and prohibited the power company from removing the tree and recently the 8th District Court of Appeals upheld this decision on February 21, 2008.
As is obvious, the Corrigans likely spent a small fortune trying to protect their tree. This dispute may have been avoided if the easement had been drafted in a clear and concise manner to put both parties on notice as to their responsibilities. Cases such as the Corrigans occur on a regular basis and the decisions seem to be split, some in favor of the landowner and others in favor of the easement holder. Before signing an easement, property owners should have their attorney review the document and discuss their obligations and any potential problems that could arise in the future.
NOTE: This general summary of the law should not be used to solve individual problems since slight changes in the fact situation may require a material variance in the applicable legal advice.