Unbounded Interests: The Limits of Blanket Easements
Blanket easements affect the use of burdened land and the rights of both landowners and easement holders. This article examines the various trends that have begun to emerge as states decide whether to invalidate, uphold, or limit the scope of blanket easements. It then discusses the implications of each trend, with an eye to the interests of utilities and infrastructure developers.
Historically, it was not uncommon for utilities and other infrastructure developers to obtain from landowners blanket easements that allowed improvements to be located anywhere on the subject property. However, as time passes and property changes hands, conflicts may arise between a landowner’s plans for their property and the broad rights created by a blanket easement. For example, the landowner may seek to change the use of their property, or the infrastructure owner may try to exercise its blanket easement rights to change the installed facilities or their location. For utilities and other infrastructure easement owners, attempts to limit the broad scope of a blanket easement may stilt their long-enjoyed—and often necessary—use of the land.
States have slowly begun addressing the question of how to balance these interests. Some states disfavor blanket easements and have passed statutes limiting their applicability. Most states refuse to entirely invalidate them, while still recognizing that justice may require limits on easement rights. Such states attempt to fix the easement’s location based on one of three inquiries: the original intent of the parties, the area reasonably necessary for use, or the prior use of the parcel. This article examines the application and implications of these trends.
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