Georgia law allows a party to obtain a private way (or easement) over the land of another through a process known as prescription (also sometimes called adverse possession). See OCGA Section 49-4-40 et seq. This requires seven years’ uninterrupted use through improved lands. To show prescription, however, the party seeking an easement must show (1) uninterrupted use of the alleged private way, (2) that the private way is no more than twenty feet wide, (3) that he or she has kept the private way in repair, (4) and that the use was public, continuous, exclusive, peaceable, and accompanied by a claim of right. Finally, the use of the alleged easement must be adverse. This means that if the owner of the property gave permission to use the property, there cannot be adverse possession.
To obtain an easement over another’s land, the party seeking an easement must prove each of the above elements. All things being equal, the courts will favor the property owner over the party claiming an easement. This makes sense. Obtaining a legal right to go over someone else’s property should not be easy. On the other hand, a property owner should have some responsibility to know how his or her property is being used and to prevent unauthorized use.
A recent Georgia Court of Appeals case decided this issue. In Wilkes 581 Farms, LLC v. McAvoy, A20A1225 (September 18, 2020), a party claimed an easement over a road belonging owned by another party. The court ruled against an easement over the road because the property owner had given permission to use the road. Thus, the claim was not adverse. In other words, if a property owner gives permission, there cannot be adverse possession or prescription.
Secondarily, the court ruled that the party seeking an easement lost because he could not show his the use of the road was exclusive. Instead, the evidence showed that others used the road.
If you have an easement question or dispute, please call us at 404-382-9994.