In law school, students are taught to think of ownership over a piece of property to be like a bundle of sticks. Each stick in the bundle represents a particular right. Many people think of owning real estate to be an all-or-nothing proposition -- either you own it or you don’t. In fact, it is possible to own property while having limitations on your ability to do whatever you want on that piece of land.
For example, the property could have an easement on it. An easement is a nonpossessory interest in another party’s land. In other words, the party gets to use land he or she does not own or possess. A common type of easement allows the non-owner to walk or drive through part of the property to get access to a road.
This does not give the beneficiary of the easement the right to occupy the property, or give anyone else the right of way through the affected property. The owner may continue to exclude anyone else who does not have an easement. Whether an easement passes on to subsequent owners of the properties involved depends on its nature.
Ideally, all parties to an easement have a clear understanding of its meaning, and each individual’s rights and obligations. But sometimes, there is a misunderstanding, or one party decides to defy the agreement somehow. When that happens, and the parties are not able to settle the dispute, it may be necessary to go to court. The best way to preserve your property rights is to hire an attorney experienced in real estate disputes.