A prescriptive easement is a legal right of use to a person who is not the rightful owner of the property. This right is only for a specific purpose, while adverse possession provides for the effective transfer of title and ownership interest in the real property. Prescriptive easements are not claims of ownership; they are claims of an ongoing right to use real property. The requirements for a prescriptive easement are similar to those of adverse possession. The person requesting a prescriptive easement must demonstrate that they used the land “openly” and conspicuously, that the use was “continuous” or “uninterrupted”, that the use occurred along a “uniform route”, that the use was “adverse” for the owner, and that the use occurred with the knowledge of the owner at a time when the law could enforce and enforce their rights.
It is important to note that, in the case of prescriptive servitude, the requirements refer to “use” rather than possession, and there is no requirement of exclusivity. Instead of obtaining ownership of the property, the beneficiary of a prescriptive easement obtains the right to continue using it and the landlord cannot exclude or expel them. In most cases, even when a prescriptive easement is successfully established, the landowner continues to enjoy concurrent rights to use it in any way that is not incompatible with the established easement. Adverse possession, on the other hand, provides for an effective transfer of title and ownership interest in real property. The requirements for adverse possession are more stringent than those for prescriptive easements.
Massachusetts common law states that the use of property must have been open, conspicuous, adverse, and exclusive during those 20 years. A property owner who has met these requirements but has not filed documentation or taken legal action in connection with them does not waive their rights to prescriptive easement. It is also well established that a tenant can obtain adverse rights to property from a third party and that those rights are returned to their landlord at the end of their lease. When adverse possession occurs, the property becomes the property of the person who has made open use of it for two decades. However, when a landlord grants a revocable license to use their property to someone who must travel on an adjoining owner's land in order to access it, they cannot acquire any easements on that adjoining property. In summary, prescriptive easements provide for an ongoing right to use another person's property while adverse possession provides for an effective transfer of title and ownership interest in real property.
The requirements for each are different and should be carefully considered before taking any action.