“Easement”–it’s a word often thrown around as a replacement for “land” or “title.” Many times, people refer to land given for access to a roadway as “easements.” In the legal realm, however, easements are much more nuanced.

In exchanges of land, or use to land, there are certain “levels” of ownership. For purposes of eminent domain, the top level is “fee simple title.” When a condemnor seeks to acquire your land for purposes of a roadway or otherwise and want “fee simple title” to the land, they are seeking full, complete, legal title to the land. They are seeking to OWN the land and all its uses. This would be the equivalent to a homeowner seeking to sell its home and land. The buyer wants fee simple title to the land.

The next level, for purposes of eminent domain, is a perpetual easement. A perpetual easement is the right to use a piece of land for the purposes stated in the easement forever. Note: the grantee of the easement (the one receiving the right to use) does NOT own the property. They merely own the RIGHT to use that property. The grantor of the easement (the one giving the easement) still owns the property and may still even use the property if that use does not interfere with the grantee’s use. This is most common in powerline and pipeline matters. Often, large utilities will seek a perpetual easement over a portion of land for the purposes of building a powerline or pipeline. The landowner may still farm, build, and otherwise operate under the powerline or over the pipeline on the easement but the utility company still has the right to use that land.

The next level of land ownership or use is a temporary easement or temporary right-of-way. This is the same as a perpetual easement except for the easement is not in perpetuity. Often, temporary easements last between 3 to 5 years. Condemning authorities will usually seek temporary right-of-way or temporary easements for purposes of running construction crews and other incidental temporary structures necessary for the construction of a roadway. For purposes of use of the property, it is the same as a perpetual easement.

It need be noted that acquisition of ALL LEVELS OF PROPERTY OWNERSHIP REQUIRE COMPENSATION. It doesn’t matter if the State or power company wants a temporary easement on the front of your property for a year or fee simple title to the entirety of your property. The condemning authority has to pay you for the use of your property at any level. In the same vein, YOU, the landowner, have the RIGHT TO SAY ‘NO’ when the State first offers you money for your land. Sever Storey strongly advises contacting an attorney, well versed in eminent domain and condemnation law, when confronted by a condemning authority for your land.

Sever Storey is a multi state law firm serving landowners who are faced with eminent domain or condemnation.  If you have any questions about these terms or about a eminent domain or condemnation matter you may be facing feel free to give us a call at 1-888-318-376 or just email your questions to jordan@landownerattorneys.com.