An easement (sometimes referred to as a right-of-way) is a grant from a landowner to another party of the right to use property in some way and are very common in both urban and rural areas. Conversely with the grant of a right, easements also have the effect of partially restricting the landowner’s use of the easement portion.
Common examples of easements are those (1) to utility companies to maintain gas or electrical lines, (2) to oil and gas companies to run oil or gas pipelines or (3) access type easements allowing for ingress and egress to a neighboring property. These types of easements guarantee access to the easement land but restrict the landowner’s use of that same land for activities that would interfere with the use.
Easements are typically filed of record in the county property records. They remain attached to the land and are automatically transferred from one owner to another as the land is sold. Unless extinguished by unusual measures, easements typically remain on the title until the holder of the easement discharges their rights from the certificate of title.
A blanket easement is a term for an easement that has an undefined area, meaning the easement applies to an entire parcel of land. Reserved easements in federal patents were always blanket easements. In addition, blanket easements were often used to provide for protection of well-site flow lines and for water and gas co-ops. Many easements done around the 1950’s were drafted in this manner with the idea that the party receiving the easement would then survey the land after the grant and choose a specific location for the utility lines, etc. Unfortunately, the second part of this plan frequently never came to occur and we now see many blanket easements during our title examinations.
The most common cure for a blanket easement is to locate the owner of the easement and obtain a more specific definition of the easement boundaries. The difficulty with this plan is that many times the company that was granted the easement is no longer in existence or was acquired by another entity. Thus, it can become a long and lengthy process to locate the proper parties for an older blanket easement.
In rare instances, it may become necessary for a Court to specify the more narrow location. Courts will focus on the intent of the parties when deciding location and will also typically take into account how the parties have actually used the land since the creation of the blanket easement. But in all cases, the Court will want the defined location to be reasonable to both parties.
Any property purchase should involve identifying title issues such as blanket easements. Understanding the title and utilizing professionals, such as your attorney and title company, can minimize later ramifications when these issues are identified in advance.