Friday, 13 April 2018

Easement - Do we have one?

The State and its agencies own a significant amount of freehold land across Victoria, in addition to the extensive Crown Lands Estate.  The creation of easements to either benefit or encumber that freehold land is often necessary to realise objectives to develop either State owned land or privately owned surrounding land and ensure the efficient provision of necessary infrastructure and facilities.  For example, the State may require a utility service provider to install pipes, fittings, and drains under State owned land to provide a water supply to a proposed new school building.  Alternatively, a developer of land that adjoins State owned land may require a right to connect to drainage or sewerage pipes under the State owned land before the local Council will grant them a permit to construct units on their land and certify the necessary plan of subdivision.

Do we need an easement?


Before deciding on creating an easement, it is important for the department or agency to step back and ask a few questions.  For example, you should consider:

  1. Will a right to use the land in common with others suffice or is there a need for exclusive possession?
  2. Is the right to use the land to be enjoyed by whomever is the owner of the benefiting land at any given point in time or is the use right intended to be personal to the State or an individual
  3. Are the following (4) essential characteristics of an easement present?[1]
    • There must be a dominant and a servient tenement - The land that benefits from the easement is the dominant tenement and the land subjected to the easement is the servient tenement.
    • The right must accommodate the dominant tenement - The right claimed as an easement must be reasonably necessary for the better enjoyment of the dominant tenement and the two parcels of land affected by the easement arrangement must be contiguous.
    • Both tenements must be owned or occupied by different persons.
    • The right must be of a kind capable of forming the subject matter of a grant - The right must be sufficiently precise and certain and not confer a right to exclusive possession.

The answers to these questions will assist with determining whether an easement is the appropriate form of tenure.

Easements create non-possessory, proprietary interests in land.  An easement will be the appropriate form of tenure if the (3) questions above are answered in the affirmative.
If exclusive possession is needed, a lease will be the appropriate instrument, not an easement.  If a mere personal right to use land for a defined time period is required, a contractual licence will be needed rather than an easement.

How should we create the easement?


Statute


A certified plan can be lodged at Land Use Victoria for the purposes of creating an easement, upon the Registrar of Titles' registration of that plan.  A planning permit will normally need to be obtained under the relevant planning scheme and lodged with the certified plan, registration application, the title to the burdened land and other necessary documentation [2].
 
In the context of a subdivision, easements necessary for the reasonable enjoyment of the property may be created by being shown on the certified and registered plan of subdivision.[3] These include easements of way, drainage, party wall, supply of water, gas, electricity, sewerage, telephone and other services either through, over or under lands.

The scope of the rights granted to the beneficiaries of these easements is determined by the common law.  Where more bespoke or specific rights are required, an express grant will be needed as outlined below.

Express Grant


Creation of an easement by express grant can be done by deed or using Land Use Victoria's approved form.

While existing equitable easements are protected by law in Victoria in the sale scenario, formal registration of an easement is nevertheless recommended in the interests of clarity and certainty.  Registration may also save an easement which might otherwise be regarded as abandoned through extended non use.

Doctrine of the lost modern grant


The common law doctrine of lost modern grant will apply to create easements over land in Victoria where there is proof that a right in the nature of an easement has been used openly and continuously for at least 20 years, without objection by the owner of the burdened land.

The doctrine of the lost modern grant does not operate over Crown land.

Wrongful interference with or obstruction of an easement constitutes the tort of nuisance and, among other things, gives the dominant owner a right to obtain damages and/or an injunction.

As Property law experts within Government, the VGSO Property Team is well placed to assist you with land use arrangements and other property issues.  If you need further advice in relation to easements, please contact:

Jennifer McLean
Senior Solicitor
9947 1429
jennifer.mclean@vgso.vic.gov.au

Elizabeth Wortley
Senior Solicitor
9947 1433
elizabeth.wortley@vgso.vic.gov.au



[1] These (4) characteristics are not a requirement for statutory easements in gross conferred upon various government or other bodies that provide essential public services, such as gas, power and water supplies.

[2] Subdivision Act 1988 ss 23 and 24

[3] Transfer of Land Act 1958 s98

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