Many people are familiar with an easement, although they may not know exactly what one is. The topic can become even more confusing when someone is dealing with a quasi-easement. They may not even know that this specific type of easement exists, and that it would have the same exact legal status as an express easement.
Here is what you need to know about both an easement and a quasi-easement, and how they may affect ownership of land.
Reasons Why One Property Owner May Need an Easement
An easement gives someone limited use of the land of another for a certain specified purpose. The easement may be granted on its own or in a contract in exchange for money.
Here are some common examples of easements:
- The electric company needs to run wires overhead on someone’s property
- Someone needs to cross their neighbor’s land to reach the road
- A child needs to cut through their neighbor’s yard to get to school
- A property owner wants to maintain access to light and air on their property
- A negative easement may prevent an owner from developing their property because it interferes with something their neighbor wants to do on their property
How an Express Easement Works
A property owner may grant an easement to another for free or for money; however, it is often the owner’s decision whether to give the easement. In an express easement, both parties will commit their understanding to a contract between them. In this situation, there can be no doubt that an easement exists because the scope and the extent of the easement will be in writing.
Some Easements May Be Implied
That being said, there are some easements that arise through means other than a contract or an agreement. In addition to the express easements described above, there are also implied easements. An implied easement is one that is not memorialized in any document. The owner may have given verbal permission, or the easement holder may have been using the property of their neighbor for an extended period of time. These easements still have the same force of law, and the easement holder is still entitled to use the property, notwithstanding the lack of a written agreement.
How a Quasi-Easement Is Established
A quasi-easement is one form of an implied easement. Here, there is no writing that describes the scope of the easement or that it even exists in the first place. A quasi-easement arises due to the specific circumstances.
In general, a quasi-easement is when someone uses part of a larger tract of land for the benefit of their own property and their own needs.
A quasi-easement exists because someone in the past did not commit a certain easement to writing. In the usual example of a quasi-easement, a prior owner had divided an already existing lot.
The three conditions that need to be met in order for there to be a quasi-easement are:
- There was an existing use of the property at the time that the lot was divided
- There was a use of the land that was apparent at the time that the property was divided
- Once the property was divided and conveyed, the use of the property continued for the benefit of the grantee
Examples of Quasi-Easements
Here is a common example of how a quasi-easement would work. A property owner may own a large lot of land that could have several structures on it. At one point, they may decide to divide the land to give some of the property to someone else. For instance, they may want to give a “mother-in-law” house to a family member. That home may need an easement to access things such as a road or even a septic tank. When the property was first divided, there may have been no need for a written document because it was conveyed to family, who may have relied on the implied permission of the property owner.
Over time, the family member grantee may have sold their property to someone else. Now, the new owner takes possession of the property without an express written document that allows them to continue accessing roads or utilities. A quasi-easement exists to protect them.
Quasi-Easements Are Not Favored in Law
In Georgia, the right of a quasi-easement is somewhat more limited than in other states. In a 2008 case decided by the Court of Appeals of Georgia, the court explained that:
“The concept of quasi-easement has been applied in Georgia only in instances where an implied easement is necessary to provide water or other essential services to one parcel of property after partition of the tract by the developer or other common owner.”
De Castro v. Durrell, 295 Ga. App. 194, 199, 671 S.E.2d 244, 249 (2008).
In other words, quasi-easements are not necessarily favored by the law. Courts will usually not expand them beyond a situation of necessity. In this particular case, the Court of Appeals did not allow for access to a part of a property that was previously used as a soccer field on the grounds that the use was not a necessity.
In general, the easement holder would have the burden to show that the facts support a quasi-easement, but they should know courts do not generally like implied easements.
Nonetheless, a court will give effect to a quasi-easement if the easement holder can show facts that support its existence. Still, courts are far more likely to give effect to an express easement because two parties have the right to contract as they wish and have expressed their intent in a written document to which they both agreed. Courts hesitate to imply an arrangement that interferes with one property owner’s right to use and enjoy their own land.
Quasi-Easements Are Related to Prescriptive Easements
The same facts that give rise to a quasi-easement could also lead to a prescriptive easement depending on the circumstances of the property usage. In Georgia, one can gain a prescriptive easement by using a property for seven uninterrupted years without the owner expressing opposition. If you are a property owner, and someone is using your property without permission, you must say something, preferably in writing. Otherwise, the easement could be treated as a legal fact if it lasts for the seven-year period.
Both an express easement and a quasi-easement run appurtenant to the land, meaning that they are both attached to the land and not the people owning the land. In every easement, there is both a dominant and servient estate. The land that is burdened by the easement is called the servient estate. If the owner of the servient estate sells the land, the easement will still continue to exist, and the new owner will be similarly bound by it. Even though there is no writing, the implied easement is still attached to the servient estate.
Even when a property holds a quasi-easement, its use is still limited. An easement is only good for its purpose. If the dominant estate is misusing the easement, the easement may be terminated. Here, misusing the easement means that the dominant estate is exceeding the scope. Then, the servient estate may take the matter to court to have a judge terminate the easement.
Anyone who purchases a property should consider physically inspecting it before doing so to learn whether there may be any implied easements. The seller of the property would be under a legal obligation to disclose an easement, but they may not always inform the potential buyer. Therefore, it is up to the buyer to also carry out their own inspection to raise the issue before the sale goes through so that the easement can be addressed.
Considerations for Quasi-Easements
Here are some things you need to consider when you are dealing with a quasi-easement or any other form of implied easement:
- If it is at all possible, you should always capture property arrangements in a written document that is clear and unambiguous.
- If you have any dispute over access to land, you should contact a real estate attorney as soon as possible—preferably at the beginning of the disagreement.
- If the property owner of the servient estate interferes with the dominant estate’s access to the land, it can be considered a trespass. Thus, one could be liable for committing trespass, even on their own property.
- A viable quasi-easement is every bit as binding as an express written easement.
Issues relating to both implied and express easements can be complex. One commonality between the two types of easements is that property owners take their rights seriously. Conflicts over access and one’s exclusive use of their own property could result in emotional and costly disputes. It is always better to contact an Atlanta property law attorney to help you handle the disagreement. Working with a lawyer can actually decrease the chances that your case may go all the way to litigation.
Contact an Atlanta Property Law Attorney Today
Our property easement lawyer at the Law Offices of Mark Weinstein, PC work with property owners on boundary and easement issues, both to help them protect their own rights and to ensure they have the access they need to enjoy their own property.