Prescriptive Easements

Utah Land

An easement by prescription is one that is gained under principles of a legal concept known as “adverse possession”, under which someone other than the original property owner gains use or ownership rights to certain property. Prescriptive easements often arise on rural land when landowners fail to realize part of their land is being used, perhaps by an adjoining neighbor. Fences built in incorrect locations often result in the creation of prescriptive easements. If a person uses another’s land for more than the statute of limitations period prescribed by state laws on adverse possession, that person may be able to derive an easement by prescription. Under adverse possession laws, the use of the land must be open, notorious, hostile, and continuous for a specified number of years as required by law in each state.

Prescriptive Easement Requirements

The time period for obtaining an easement by adverse possession does not begin to run until the one seeking adverse possession actually trespasses on the land. Thus, a negative easement cannot be acquired by prescription because no trespass takes place. The use of the easement must truly be adverse to the rights of the landowner of the property through which the easement is sought and must be without the landowner’s permission. If the use is with permission, it is not adverse. There must be a demonstration of continuous and uninterrupted use throughout the statute of limitations period prescribed by state law. If the use is too infrequent for a reasonable landowner to bother protesting, the continuity requirement will probably not be satisfied.

“Tacking” the Time Requirement

Subsequent parties in the same position to the land using the right of way adversely can add up the time to meet the required statute of limitations. This situation is known as “tacking”. Thus, a prescriptive easement need not be exclusive; it can be shared among several users.