How do I grant an easement that's temporary, and only for one person?

A "license" rather than an "easement" provides a way to limit use of a driveway to a neighbor and retain the right to revoke or terminate access.

Question

The owner of a vacant lot next to mine is building a new home. She has asked whether I will grant her an “easement” to use my driveway instead of building her own. While it is possible to construct a new driveway on her property, our lots are located on a rocky hill, so constructing a new driveway will be expensive. I don’t have a problem allowing her to use my driveway for now, but I want to have the ability to stop her access in the future – and I'm especially uncomfortable with the idea that she might sell the place and I'd have to allow access to someone I don't even know. Can I grant an easement that is temporary and only for my soon-to-be neighbor?

Answer

The law does provide a possible way for you to limit use of your driveway to your soon-to-be neighbor and retain the right to revoke or terminate access. However, the agreement will be called a “license,” not an “easement.” Unlike an easement, a license can generally be revoked at any time, for any reason.

If you grant your neighbor access under the terms of an easement agreement, you may find it difficult to revoke, including after your neighbor sells her property. Easements grant a right to one person to use property that is owned by another. Oftentimes they are recorded with the county clerk and made a part of the public record. In most cases, the party who is granted the right must agree before that right can be revoked (taken away).

On the other hand, a license agreement doesn't “run with the land” and may be revoked by the person who grants it. License agreements may allow temporary use of your property that is similar to the use allowed by an easement, but with a license you will retain significantly more control.

A license agreement doesn’t have to be in writing, but it may be a good idea to put yours in writing. Doing so will help eliminate future disputes over what you and your neighbor agreed to. For instance, if you agree that she will help pay to maintain the driveway or to indemnify if she gets hurt using the driveway, you don’t want a “he said, she said” argument over what was agreed to.

You can craft the license agreement to protect your interest by including terms that expressly:

  • state your right to unilaterally, and for whatever reason, revoke the license
  • limit use of the driveway for a specific duration (such as two years), even though you retain the right to revoke at any point during that term
  • prohibit use of the driveway for any home business your new neighbor may operate (in which case you might see an increase in traffic),
  • obligate your neighbor to indemnify you in case she, or a guest of hers, is injured while using the driveway, and
  • require your new neighbor to pay for, or share in, maintenance costs during the duration of the license.

The necessary terms will be specific to you, so hiring an attorney to help draft the license agreement is a good idea.

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