As a potential home buyer, you should be aware that if you have an easement on the property which you are interested in purchasing and your neighbor needs to drive on your land in order to access their land, they are within thier legal rights to do so.
What home owners should know about property right and easements:
The right to legally trespass upon someone else's property is called an easement.
Easements do not grant the right for your neighbor to begin gardening in your backyard. Easements do not grant possession, rather they grant permission for the property to be used for a stated purpose. Utility companies have easement privilges in that they may have the right to dig in your yard in order to install a cable or phone pole.
Understanding easements before you buy a property:
Before you close on a property, find out whether there are any easements, where they are located, and what type of easements the property might hold. Some easements remain long after a home is purchased, however some may be canceled, but this all depends upon whether the easement is appurtenant or gross.
An appurtenant easement would be one which a neighbor sought and now owns and this easement stays with the home upon purchase.
Gross easements are those which provide access, for example, to a neighbor wishing to get to a fishing spot. This type of easement does not remain with the property upon sale. In the event that the owner wished to install a fence in order to keep neighbors out, the easement would be terminated.
Property rights & easement rights:
In the event that you purchased a home with an easement granting the ONLY access to a public beach, you would not have the right to cancel this easement. In the event that you attempted to prevent trespassing, you would be infringing upon a right-of-way easement (or easement by necessity) and you could be sued!
It is curcially important to understand whether there are easements on your property BEFORE you buy if you plan to build or construct an addition. Check out your paperwork as written easements are contained in deeds, individual documents, on plots, and in condo and homeowner association documents. For example, if your neighbor received an easement for their solar panels, you cannot renovate, expand, or plant a tree that would block your neighbor's access to sunlight.
Challenging an easement:
Under specific circumstances, easements can be challenged in court by property owners. This could be an easy process if the easement holder agrees to terminate. Some easements have expiration dates, which also make for easy endings, however some do not, resulting in a more difficult termination process.
A prescriptive easement ("squatter's rights") occurs when someone openly uses their neighbor’s property for a certain length of time without the owner’s permission. This varies by state and this type of easement is not on a title report. As a buyer, you shoud do a physical inspection to uncover this type of easement. It is possible to challenge a prescriptive easement via allegations that land has been abandoned. It is always best to check with a real estate attorney before proceeding with any legal action.