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Issue  23  Article  57
Published:  6/1/1997

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Easements - Scope of Grant
Chris Burti, Vice President and Legal Counsel

In Swaim V. Simpson, 120 N.C.App. 863, 463 S.E. 2d 785 (1995), Aff’d w.o. opin., 343 N.C. 298, 469 S.E. 2d 553 (1996), the plaintiffs were granted an easement for ingress and egress. The court rejected the plaintiffs’ claim that this grant included the right to locate, install and maintain utilities. Finding that this would be increasing the burden on the servient tract where the parties did not expressly grant the extra rights in the easement.

Judge Johnson’s dissenting opinion is more interesting in that it presents additional facts not addressed in the majority opinion. The dissent takes a common sense approach stating "that a deed, which included an easement restricting a lot to residential use sufficient to maintain a residence, would necessarily provide the right to install utilities to the residential lot. In Sparrow v. Dixie Leaf Tobacco Co., 232 N.C. 589, 61 S.E.2d 700 (1950), the Court held that, when determining what uses of an easement are reasonably necessary, consideration must be given to the purposes or uses for which the easement was granted. It would be reasonably necessary that an easement for residential use include, not only the right to ingress and egress, but also the right to lay utility lines. Any other conclusion would render the lot restricted for residential use basically inhabitable."

It has been common practice in many areas to convey access easements without reference to utilities. Unless an applicable limitations period has elapsed, the effect of Swaim may be to allow sellers to demand additional money from property purchasers, after the closing, in situations similar to the one the dissent describes in order to assure an uninterrupted access to utility service.

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