What is an Easement?

By Greg George

Spokane, Washington, February 1, 2019. The Washington Supreme Court has defined an “easement” as “a property right separate from ownership that allows the use of another’s land without compensation[1].”

Generally speaking, the purpose of an easement is to provide access to and from a property that otherwise does not have access. For example, if Smith crosses Jones’ land to get to Smith’s land, Jones may grant Smith an easement to cross over Jones’ property.

The property benefiting from an easement (i.e., Smith’s property in the scenario above) is called the “dominant estate.” The property burdened by an easement (i.e., Jones’ property in the scenario above) is called the “servient estate.”

Now, here are some things an easement is not:

First, an easement is not a license. A “license” can be taken away by the person giving the license. For example, if Smith gives Jones a license to cross Smith’s land, Smith can at any time revoke that license, and Jones would no longer be allowed to cross Smith’s land. On the other hand, an easement is usually permanent unless both property owners agree to terminate it.

Second, an easement is not a “profit,” sometimes called a “profit a prendre.” A profit is a right to go on someone else’s land and take away something of value from the land (for example, by mining, logging, or hunting).

It is best for easements to be in a written agreement between the landowners, and for the written agreement to be filed at the County Auditor’s Office. That helps make the easement enforceable into the future—even if other people later buy the properties involved in the easement agreement.

Note: This post is not legal advice, and should not be relied upon as such. Different sets of facts will likely lead to different legal conclusions. If you need assistance with real property matters, call Bristol George, PLLC at 866-511-1500 for a forty-five minute, no charge consultation to see if we can help.

[1] Hanna v. Margitan, 193 Wn.App. 596, 606, 373 P.3d 300 (2016) (quoting M.K.K.I., Inc. v. Krueger, 135 Wn.App. 647, 654, 145 P.3d 411 (2006)).