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Hollywood case provides example of easement issues

Easement battles happen to everyone - even the Hollywood elite.

A fence that infringes on a neighbor's property, an expansion or remodel project next door that block's your view, a tree branch that breaks and damages another's home - the issues that can arise between neighbors are many. These issues can become even more contentious when neighbors share a piece of land in a legal relationship referred to as an easement.

What exactly is an easement?

Easements are creatures of the law. This legal term is defined by Black's Law Dictionary as the "right in the owner of one parcel of land, by reason of such ownership, to use the land of another for a special purpose not inconsistent with a general property in the owner." This is generally considered a privilege that allows one owner of property to use another's property. The land that is being used is referred to as the "servient tenement" and the owner using this land is the "dominant owner."

Easements can provide legal issues for anyone, even the Hollywood elite. A recent case provides an example. The case involves English actress Minnie Driver, known for her roles in Good Will Hunting, Grosse Point Blank and the current ABC sitcom Speechless.

What is the issue in this case?

In this case, the actress put up an electric gate on her driveway. She claims that this gate is needed for the "safety of her family." Unfortunately, the driveway also contains a servient tenement, a piece of land used by her neighbor to enter his property.

As with all things Hollywood, the plot thickens. The issue involves more than just an owner entering his property through use of the easement. It also involves the use of construction equipment through the easement, since the owner is completing some work on the property. Ms. Driver agrees that the neighbor can use the piece of land in question, but argues that the construction crews are illegally blocking access to the easement by parking large trucks on the land.

At issue is likely the "use" of the easement. Generally, the use of an easement must meet the purpose for which the easement was created. Some changes and alterations are allowed, as long as these adjustments do not impact the character of the easement. Each side will likely argue on whether or not their use of the easement meets its intended purpose.

What can others in similar situations learn?

Ms. Driver's legal battle provides a valuable lesson for anyone dealing with an easement dispute. Easements are complex interests in property and disputes can result in laborious battles. In this case alone, both sides have compiled numerous documents including survey maps, property lines, photos of violations and graphs of the areas in dispute.

It is important to note that even though the process to defend your rights in an easement battle may be difficult, it is possible. If these rights are violated, remedies are available. As such, those with easement disputes are wise to seek legal counsel. An attorney can review the dispute and discuss which remedies are available, working to better ensure your land interests are protected.

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