What is an Easement?
An easement is the legal or equitable right of someone to use the land of another for a specific or special purpose, often to travel over the land in question to reach another area of land. An easement is a legal right if it was created by a legal instrument, like a deed. An easement is an equitable right if it is needed to ensure access to or fair use of another piece of land, for example a property without access to a road would be entitled to an easement over other land in order to reach the road.
The person or entity that owns the easement is called the dominant estate, while the land the easement lies on is called the servient estate.
An easement can last forever, unlike a lease or license, but it does not give the dominant easement the right to sell or improve the land, although the land may be maintained.
Most homeowners are familiar with utility easements -- rights to access property given to power and cable companies. Counties or localities often also have easements to ensure proper care of roads and sidewalks. These easements allow the dominant estate to enter onto the servient estate whenever needed for access or maintenance.
If the easement is documented in a deed or other written agreement, it should set forth clearly the rights and responsibilities of both the dominant and servient estates and is the definitive source to understand what the easement entitles the servient estate to do.