An easement provides that the easement beneficiary – which may be the government, a company, or even another person – has the right to enter upon a person’s property and to take some action thereon. The action may be to cross over the another person’s property using a road or driveway, or to bury power lines that may be left permanently in the property.
Today, in most residential areas, various governments or municipalities will have the right undertake certain actions with respect to a person’s property, including the right to:
- Install and maintain water, sewage, gas, and power lines
- Install cable for cable TV
- Enter upon property in order to fix or upgrade such lines or cable
With an easement, the property owner continues to own their property. Additionally, the governmental agencies to whom these easements are granted usually do not have to pay homeowners, or, in most cases, obtain the permission of homeowners, before work is undertaken. Usually they are only required (or by matter of custom, provide) advance notification to property owners of the work to be undertaken, and to repair and remediate areas that are disturbed by their work. This could mean repairing grass areas that are disturbed from digging.
With eminent domain, the government simply acquires the landowner’s property in consideration for paying fair value. As the new owner, the government can then do whatever they want with respect to the property.
Normally the government will prefer an easement, as this will be the less expensive route. For instance, if the government can obtain an easement for the purpose of burying power lines to connect homes and not have to pay for this right, the government will be better off than having to buy that same land from the landowner.