To grant my neighbor a license or easement, do I need an attorney?

Creating an easement or license wouldn't require high legal fees, but would be well worth getting done right.

Question

My neighbor and I are good friends, and just recently moved into the neighborhood at the same time. She has a big family with several young children, and a big sports utility vehicle. Her driveway is small, and she has trouble pulling in and out, given the shape of her driveway. She has asked if it would be okay for her to enter and exit her property by driving over my land. This would be far easier for her large vehicle, and I honestly don’t mind at all. Do I need to grant her an official “easement” or “license”? Do I need an attorney to do this?

Answer

The legal concepts of “licenses” and “easements” are frequently confused. Generally speaking, an easement is a more serious property right; it is the legal right to use someone else’s land for a particular purpose. Easements are often recorded at the county clerk’s office and encumber your property’s title. Easements are commonly granted to public utility companies, for example, for various power or plumbing lines.

While you certainly do not need a lawyer to create or grant an easement to your neighbor, it might be a good idea to retain one. Learn more about easements from Nolo’s Overview.

Here, however, you probably do not need to take the step of granting an easement. A simple, revocable license would probably suffice. A revocable license can be terminated by the licensor – in this case, you – at any time with or without cause.

A license need not be in writing, but to protect you, it probably should be. Many unforeseen issues can arise in the granting of a revocable license. For starters, you want to make it clear that it can be revoked unilaterally at your discretion. Also, if your neighbor moves, does the license pass to the next homeowner, whom you might not be so friendly with? If your neighbor stays, and her three children grow up to be obnoxious teenagers, each with his or her own car, are all of those drivers now permitted to drive over your land? And what happens if one of them buys a noisy motorcycle instead of a quiet sedan? Surely, in each of these cases, you would want to have something in writing that limits your obligation to allow your neighbors to drive across your land.

An experienced attorney can help you think through issues like these – and many others that you might not be able to imagine – and ensure that your grant does not hurt your interests in the future. Given that the project involves only a few simple conversations and some basic document drafting, the cost of the legal fees would likely not be exorbitant. Indeed, if a dispute ever arose, these simple preventative steps could easily pay for themselves down the road.

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