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| 2 minutes read

How Easements Work: Man Plants Trees Over Irrigation Pipe

Easements are rarely encountered but are still a critically important aspect of real estate law because of how much they can impact a property owner’s rights.

A case from California highlights how they can work.

Primer on Easements: Irrigation Pipelines

The situation happened outside of Turlock, California. The local irrigation agency had obtained an easement back in 1988 to bury water lines under several parcels of land. The easement was a strip of land 12.5 feet wide, covering a total of 1.2 acres.

Anthony Inzana owned one of those parcels of land. He bought another of the parcels in 2010. After buying the second parcel of land, he cleared a host of almond trees that were in the easement’s territory and planted pistachio trees in their place.

169 of those pistachio trees were inside the irrigation agency’s easement, three feet from the middle of the water pipeline underground.

The irrigation agency wanted to remove the trees so it could protect the pipeline from damage from tree roots, and so the agency could access the pipeline for repairs. Mr. Inzana refused to cut the trees down, and the dispute went to court.

What Is an Easement? 

An easement is a specific right to land or real estate that someone other than the landowner has. That right is often the result of a contract or earlier agreement, and is frequently limited to a particular purpose.

A classic example of an easement is a shared driveway between two houses. One of the homeowners also owns the property on which the driveway has been built. However, the person living in the other house has a right to use the driveway to get to and from the road.

Occasionally, as in the case of Mr. Inzana’s property, a government agency can have an easement over property.

Easements Survive Sales

Importantly for Mr. Inzana’s case, easements only end in certain circumstances:

  • The property owner and the user of the easement end the easement in a written contract
  • The user of the easement signals their intent to stop using the easement
  • The user of the easement becomes the owner of the underlying property
  • There is no further need for the use of the property that supported the easement

One of the circumstances that does not lead to the termination of an easement is if the property containing the easement is sold. Therefore, when Mr. Inzana claimed that he had just bought the property and did not know of the easement it was encumbered with, the court simply shrugged.

Discovering the presence of an easement is not easy to do, even though it can radically change what you can do once you have bought a piece of property, and can drastically reduce its value. Before purchasing a parcel of land, ask your real estate lawyer to check for existing easements.


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