Licenses & easements.

When we left Novella yesterday, she had just spoken with the owner of the large lot on which she had dug and planted a garden, without his permission. The man saw her work on his property and told her: “Garden ok. Only garden.”

What Novella now has is a license to garden on the plot.

A license is the legal term for permission to enter land belonging to another person. It’s a permit to do something that would otherwise be a trespass. The property owner retains all of his ownership in the land.

Most importantly, a license is terminable at any time. If the property owner changed his mind 15 minutes later and decided that he didn’t want a garden on his land, he could turn right around, tell Novella to leave, and she would have to obey.

Novella’s license is only to garden. She can’t build a house on the lot; she can’t mine for gold on the lot; she can’t start a business on the lot. Anything outside the license to garden (“Only garden.”) is still a trespass.

Later on in the book, Novella moves her beehive to the garden. Is this a trespass? 

The landowner might think that moving a hive of bees onto the lot is a trespass. If the landowner brought a trespass action, a court would have to figure out the scope of the license that the landowner gave to Novella. The court might look at what a reasonable person would think when they heard the words “Garden ok. Only garden.” Most gardens probably don’t have beehives in them. Novella might argue that the bees help to pollinate her garden and are therefore an essential part of the garden.

For urban gardeners & farmers, a license to garden means that, in contrast to trespass, your presence and activities on the land is lawful. However, a license offers no legal protection for all of your hard work. The landowner can revoke the license at any time, even in late summer, right when all of your crops are almost ripe.

So therefore, it is most likely that the landowner wouldn’t take Novella to court at all but would simply revoke the license he gave her altogether.

Easements are similar to licenses, but they are irrevocable. 

In contrast to a license, which is mere permission that can be taken away, an easement is an interest in the land that permanently belongs to the easement owner (until/unless the easement is intentionally extinguished). If the landowner granted Novella an easement to garden on the plot, she could sell or give that right to another person. Even if the landowner sold the lot to someone else, Novella would still own her easement. Clearly, having an easement on your property, especially such an intrusive one, can severely diminish the value of your land. Easements (generally) require a written grant; they cannot be agreed upon orally, like licenses can.

Posted on by Kristine Dunkerton

2 Responses to Licenses & easements.

  1. Stacy Harris says:

    The Board of our condo complex, stated that our private property (streets, sidewalks, and walkways) have public easement. Does this make sense? What does this mean?

  2. Becky Witt says:

    Hi Stacy,

    Thanks for your question!

    A public easement is a right that the public holds to do something on private property. So in your case, the general public is allowed to use your streets, sidewalks and walkways that are on private property (presumably owned by your condo complex).

    Becky Witt

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