The difference between an easement and a right of way is that the former is a right given to specific groups to access private property. The latter refers specifically to the right of individuals to pass through a property.
A right of way is an easement that applies to a common situation. But not all easements are a right of way, so the words are not interchangeable.
The right-of-way easement is perhaps the simplest to understand, but several other types of easements apply to specific scenarios.
A right-of-way easement is a right allowing individuals to pass through someone else's property, typically via a road or path. If a property blocks access to other private or public property, a right of way easement is necessary to allow others to get to it.
The easement can be created voluntarily by the landowner or through a court order.
This type of easement typically allows reasonable travel for the public. But it can also be used by utility providers and private companies who need to access private land for a justifiable reason.
A right of way can be public or private. For instance, you may allow your neighbor to pass through your yard to get to another street faster, which is a private right of way. Or, if your property is blocking access to a nearby road, you may grant a public easement allowing anyone to pass through your yard to get to it.
Right-of-way easements are very common, especially in rural areas where a homeowner may own a large plot of land. For example, say you own a waterfront property along a public beach. If there is no other way to access the beach except through your yard, you must create a path and grant a public easement.
Or say you buy a plot of land that has no access to the main road because other properties surround it. The property owner closest to the road may have to grant you a right-of-way easement, allowing you to build a road to connect a driveway if you so choose.
Other common examples include if an electrical company needs to run cables through your yard to service the neighborhood or a railroad company needing to lay train tracks on the edges of your land.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with a right-of-way easement, you should weigh the pros and cons if you're thinking of purchasing a property that has one.
Legally, the seller must disclose any easements to you before you decide to buy. So, you should pay attention to where it is and how it may affect your daily life.
If the property is large and the easement is barely ever used, you may not even notice it. But if there is a sizeable path that strangers often frequent, it may cause privacy concerns.
Plus, if you expand the property, you'll have to be sure not to block the easement. So, while it isn't necessarily a deal-breaker, you should consider it when deciding whether or not to make an offer.
Right-of-way easements are relatively commonplace, and you may come across one while buying a home. While it is possible to challenge a right of way easement, you'll have to go to court to dispute it, which can be expensive and time-consuming.
If you're thinking of purchasing a home with a right-of-way easement, be sure to find out where it is and what rights it grants before you decide to buy.
Many buyers use a right-of-way easement in their favor when negotiating, and you may get the seller to agree to drop the price or offer concessions if you contest the easement.