Imagine this: you’ve been cutting across your neighbor’s property via a little-used footpath to get to the local park for over 20 years. One day, your neighbor decides to put up a fence, blocking your shortcut. Annoying? Yes. But did you know that your long standing use of that path could actually have given you a legal right to continue using it? This intriguing concept is known as a prescriptive easement. It’s one of those areas of law where everyday actions, like walking a well-trodden path, can unexpectedly cross into the realm of legal rights and obligations. Let’s delve deeper into the world of prescriptive easements in Maryland, and how these can be established or challenged.
In legal terms, a prescriptive easement in Maryland is a type of right one person may have to use a portion of another person’s property, without owning it. This can occur when someone has been using part of another’s land openly, continuously, and without permission for a statutory period. Here in Maryland, that period is 20 years. If you have a path across your neighbor’s land that you’ve been using regularly for this length of time, for example, you might have a prescriptive easement.
Establishing a Prescriptive Easement
Creating a prescriptive easement in Maryland isn’t as simple as walking across someone else’s land for 20 years. Maryland law sets out four key criteria that must be met: the use must be open and notorious, exclusive, continuous and uninterrupted, and adverse or hostile. In other words, you can’t secretly use a part of someone else’s property and claim a prescriptive easement. Moreover, your use of the land can’t be sporadic, it must be consistent. Finally, it’s important to remember that you are essentially asserting a right without the owner’s approval, hence the term ‘hostile’.
Challenging a Prescriptive Easement
Property owners in Upper Marlboro, MD, aren’t helpless against prescriptive easements. It’s possible to challenge them in court by demonstrating that any of the four elements are not met. If the use was not open, or not continuous, or you had given permission, for instance, you might be able to defeat a claim. It’s also possible to interrupt the usage, essentially resetting the 20-year clock, or to explicitly grant permission, which can prevent the ‘adverse or hostile’ condition from being fulfilled.
How to Handle Prescriptive Easements?
If you believe you have a prescriptive easement or if you are a property owner trying to prevent or challenge one, it’s vital to get legal advice. Maryland law in this area can be complex and each situation is unique. A legal professional can help guide you through the process, whether it’s gathering evidence to establish your claim or working out the best way to protect your property rights.
Impact of Prescriptive Easements on Property Values
Prescriptive easements can affect property values in Maryland. If you’re buying a property, a title search may reveal any existing prescriptive easements, which might affect your decision to purchase or the price you’re willing to pay. On the other side, if you’re selling a property, it’s essential to disclose any known easements to potential buyers, or you may face legal consequences down the line.
Act Now to Protect Your Rights
Prescriptive easements can create complicated situations, leading to potential disputes and changes in property values. If you’re dealing with an issue relating to a prescriptive easement in Maryland, contact The Law Office of Ralph W. Powers, Jr., P.C. at (301) 627-1000 today. We are here to help ensure your rights are protected and that you understand the options available to you.