Easements and liens are encumbrances, or restrictions that affect a real estate title, that are placed on real estate property. Both types of encumbrances restrict the property owner's rights regarding the property and may affect the value of a piece of real estate to a prospective buyer. However, a lien and an easement do not serve the same functions.
An easement is an encumbrance that affects the ways in which the owner and other entities concerned with a piece of real estate may use the property. Utility companies typically maintain easement rights on real estate, which allow utility company employees to enter the property to service utility lines and other equipment. Another common type of easement prevents the property owner from building stationary objects, such as storage buildings or garages, within a specific distance from the property line. Easements may affect other rights, such as the owner's right to cut down trees or extract minerals from the soil.
A lien affects a property owner's right to dispose of the property through sale, transfer or will. This type of encumbrance is typically placed on the property title by a creditor when the property owner has not paid a debt. A private creditor must obtain a legal judgment against the property owner before placing a lien on the real estate title. A lien prevents the owner from disposing of the property until the debt obligation is satisfied. If there is sufficient equity in the property to satisfy the debt, the judgment creditor may attempt to force the sale of the property.
Origination of Encumbrance
Because a lien prevents the disposal of real estate property, it typically originates with the current property owner. This means that once the owner has fulfilled his debt obligation and disposed of the property, the lien will no longer be held against the title when the new owner completes the purchase and takes possession of the property. Conversely, an easement continues to exist even after transfer of ownership occurs. The new owner is bound by the same restrictions as the previous owner.
Termination of Encumbrance
The termination of a lien is accomplished by paying off the debt. This can be done without selling the property, or by using proceeds from the property sale. An easement may be terminated by several different methods according to a particular state's laws. Written release by the easement owner is the most common type of easement termination. The easement can also be considered invalid if it is not used for a specified period of time, and there will be no foreseeable future use of the easement. Obstructing the easement for a period of time, typically 20 years or longer, can also invalidate it.