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The conditions that could lead to a floating easement designation

In California, an easement is a right by some other party to access and use some part of another person or legal entity’s property. Traditionally, the easement definition restricts the user via the grant of easement. This description of the easement can influence a court’s decision when the user tries to change the details of the easement.

What constitutes a ‘floating’ easement?

The court may agree to a ‘floating’ easement when the description of an easement is unclear or doesn’t exist. A floating easement is one that is more fluid, where the location of the original easement can change under some criteria. In 2019, a case in the Second District Court of Appeals of California between the Southern California Edison Company (SCE) and Steven Severns resulted in some clarifications regarding the rule. Here are the specifics of the case:

  • In the 2019 case, it remained undisputed that the company could utilize historically-used access ways and areas for utility infrastructure.
  • The disagreement between the two parties arose from the SCE’s claim that it had the right to expand that location of access by using other routes across the property to access the same area.
  • The SCE claimed the property owner placed structures and trees on the property to interfere with its easement rights, preventing it from forming new access routes. The company also stated that it was entitled to access its facilities by any route over the property.
  • The owner made the argument that the company’s use was more limited to a previously defined area.

The court’s ruling

An easement defined by a more general description, the court declared, with a specified location or use, is valid in this case. This use was practiced over an extended period without the owner’s objection, ‘fixing’ the easement’s location. Therefore, the easement became established as a fixed easement due to its historical use.

Supporting fair land use

The high subjectivity of land easements makes the support for certain land uses challenging to define. If you have a property that is under easement and needs clarification or if you hold rights to use a contentious property, find an attorney with experience in California easements to help define what uses may be valid.