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Easements: Preventing Use that Benefits Nondominant Land

An easement that benefits particular land can’t be used to benefit any other land. So if someone acquires a right-of-way to pass across the servient land to get to and from a parcel of land, the dominant tenant can’t enlarge the parcel of land that he accesses by means of the easement.

That may seem strange, because it doesn’t seem like it should matter to the servient owner where the dominant owner goes after traveling over the servient land, but that’s the rule. In effect, the servient owner gave the right to the dominant owner to do a specific thing on the servient land: pass across it only to get to another particular parcel of land.

If the dominant owner does something else, he’s acting beyond the scope of his right.

Using the easement to benefit other land is a trespass. Normally, a landowner is entitled to an injunction preventing trespass, regardless of whether the trespass injures her somehow. She has the right to exclude others even if they don’t harm the land or interfere with her use in any way.

However, if the servient owner doesn’t promptly object to an expansion of the dominant land and the dominant owner invests in the property in reliance on the easement to access his enlarged property, a court may refuse to enjoin use of the easement unless the servient owner can show substantial injury.

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