Potomac, MD asked in Land Use & Zoning and Real Estate Law for Maryland

Q: We have odd neighbours that walk and drive on a shared easement through our backyard many times a day. What can we do?

Hi we live on a plot with several acres of land. However an easement was created on our land back in the 1960’s as a back access to our neighbors plot. Before either house was built. Decided between friends I believe. This easement unfortunately runs through our backyard and close to our house, and connects to our front gate. The neighbors enjoy walking through our backyard close to our house up to 9 times a day bizarrely on this easement and send cars up and down it regularly. We think they are being passive aggressive and trying to harrass us. If we step in to our back yard they start walking in front of us multiple times.. Often staring at us as we sit in our backyard. They also do weird things like performing martial arts at us on their land, when they know we can see them whilst sitting outside. Can we shut this easement down and/or do something about their behaviour in our backyard? What are our options? We live in Maryland. Thanks.

1 Lawyer Answer
Mark Oakley
Mark Oakley
  • Rockville, MD
  • Licensed in Maryland

A: You will need to do some more research or provide more facts, preferably in private with counsel. (1) How is the easement worded and recorded in the land records? (2) What was the actual purpose or circumstances under which the easement was first created--i.e., was it created "by necessity" because it provided the only viable access to the neighbor's property? (3) How confrontational are the neighbors, and how confrontational are you prepared to be, both in your actions and litigiously? You need copies of the deeds prior to your ownership to trace the easement wording from its inception to your current deed.

An easement can be extinguished by (1) merger, where the two parcels burdened and benefitted by the eaement are joined as a single owned parcel; (2) abandonment by the benefited property owner through years of non-use; (3) it's an unrecorded easement not appearing in the land records for which the burdened property owner had no actual or constructive notice of the easement at time of purchase (this requires a good faith lack of knowledge of an unrecorded easement); (4) if created by necessity, or for use for a specific purpose, and that necessity or purpose no longer exists, then it may be extinguished; (5) the easement terminates by its own terms based on the wording of the easement (e.g., a term of years limit); (6) avderse possession by the burdened property owner (block the entry-exits points, erect buildings across the easement, fence off the property, etc., and maintain exclusive open control over the easement for 20 years without interruption; (7) obtain a release from the easement to record in the land records--you will need the benefitted property owner to sign the release--perhaps you buy it from them.

Finally, if the benefitted property owner is misusing the easement for purposes other than its intended use, or is exceeding a reasonable use of the easement, or is threatening or harassing you in actionable ways unrelated to the use of the easement, you may be able to go to court and obtain an injunction against the misuse of the easement, or for a protective order against the neighbors blocking them from coming within so many feet of you or your property, which may effectively block their use of the easement. Confrontational neighbor disputes can easily spiral and mushroom into costly and aggravating litigation--even dangerous physical confrontations. Always the first effort should be to find a mutually agreed upon solution acceptable to both parties. Keep the peace. If not possible in your situation, then you have decisions to make as to whether to go down a road of confrontation and litigation that you may not be able to stop or get off of once you start.

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