Author: Dane Carey
The article is intended to provide an overview of easements that provide access to and from property—ingress and egress easements. An easement is the right to use someone else’s land. The land that is entitled to the benefit of the easement is called the “dominant tenement.” The land that is burdened by the easement is called the “servient tenement.” An easement does not affect ownership or title to the property. The easement holder merely acquires a right to use the property to the extent specified in the language of the easement.
An ingress and egress easement allows the easement holder to travel through a defined area of the servient tenement in order to access the dominant tenement. For example, an ingress and egress easement may allow you to travel across a neighbor’s property to reach your property from a public road. This type of arrangement is important in the case of parcels that are landlocked or challenging to access. Most people have a general understanding of this concept. The more pressing question is one of scope—what rights, restrictions, and obligations accompany an ingress and egress easement?
For a written easement, the grant of the easement determines the permitted use. Since an easement imposes a burden on property, the wording is strictly construed. If there are no words of limitation in the grant of an easement, it grants unlimited reasonable use. The person who acquires the ingress and egress easement has a right to unobstructed use, which means an unobstructed right of passage for a right-of-way. The right of passage is not restricted to parties in possession of the benefited property but is also open to friends, guests, tradespeople, and others with reasons to visit the benefited estate.
The Michigan Supreme Court described the relative rights of the easement holder and the owner of the property subject to the access easement as follows:
An easement holder may not materially increase the burden on the property subject to the easement beyond what was originally contemplated, or impose a new and additional burden on the servient tenement. Activities by the easement holder that go beyond the reasonable exercise of the use granted by the easement may constitute a trespass to the owner of the land.
The owner of the property subject to the easement is prohibited from interfering with the easement, even though the owner owns title to that land. That said, where the use of an easement is not exclusive, the owner of the servient tenement may use the property over which the easement runs for any purpose not inconsistent with the easement’s use.
If the dominant tenement is divided, the right to use the easement runs to all subsequent owners of the estate, as long as it is not prohibited by the easement and does not become an unreasonable burden on the servient tenement. An easement may not, however, be extended to benefit an additional parcel, even if it does not increase the burden on the servient tenement.
Generally speaking, the easement holder is entitled to improve the easement or construct improvements on the easement which are reasonably required to make the use of the easement safe and convenient. The easement holder is required to bear the costs of any improvements and repairs, unless the easement is located on a shared driveway or roadway. In that case, maintenance costs are equitably apportioned among the owners of the servient and dominant tenements in proportion to their respective use of the shared driveway.
Although this article only scratches the surface of this issue, the information set forth above highlights the basic rights and restrictions of the dominant and servient tenements. Although there are any number of issues that can arise depending on context, these are the general principles that define the scope of an ingress and egress easement.
 See Delaney v Pond, 350 Mich 685 (1957).
 Kirby v Meyering Land Co, 260 Mich 156 (1932).
 See Unverzagt v Miller, 306 Mich 260 (1943).
 Harvey v Crane, 85 Mich 316, 322-23 (1891).
 Schadewald v Brulé, 225 Mich App 26 (1997); Great Lakes Gas Transmission Co v MacDonald, 193 Mich App 571 (1992).
 Embrey v Weissman, 74 Mich App 138, 143 (1977).
 See Cantieny v Friebe, 341 Mich 143 (1954).
 See Von Meding v Strahl, 319 Mich 598 (1948).
 Schadewald, 225 Mich App at 38.
 Bowen v Buck & Fur Hunting Club, 217 Mich App 191 (1996).
Share on Twitter Share on Facebook