You’re Sitting in Our Pew…and We Have an Easement!

That’s our pew!

I was sitting in church with my family a couple months back and my phone began to vibrate. I don’t usually check my phone during a service, but I glanced down and saw the message. “Hey Jim, you are sitting in our row.” I turned around to see Brother Smith (name changed) glaring at me in jest. It’s kind of funny how we become accustomed to sitting in the exact same spot every Sunday for years and it almost becomes taboo for anyone else to claim a stake in “your” seat at church (restaurant, public hunting spot, etc.).

 

Rows of Pews at Church - Easements

You’re sitting in our pew!

 

We always seem to be that “family” that displaces others from their regular seat at church…not sure why. Next time I get the text or threat to move seats I’m going to double down and ask to see some paperwork. That’s right…paperwork! In Montana, you can get an easement for “the right of a seat in church.” See M.C.A. 70-17-101(16). I haven’t delved deep enough into the legal research on this topic to be an expert (and I won’t), but it appears from M.C.A.  70-17-101 that you can reserve a seat at church…maybe even a specific seat, row, or pew (again, not an expert on church seat easements).

 

Easements

 

For those of you who aren’t familiar with easements let me explain. An easement “is a legal right to use someone else’s land for a particular purpose.” The way it works is an owner grants an easement to someone to use or access his/her land to do something. For example, if you have power lines running across your land there is likely a utility easement that has been recorded, allowing access to the power company to have its lines on your property.

 

In Montana, we have lots of ranchers, and, if you’ve ever looked at a land ownership map you will notice that a lot of property owners are land-locked and have no way to access their land. The way we get around these issues is by obtaining easements in the form of a “right of way.” Often there are multiple easement holders for a right of way. And, when land has been divided and split up multiple times over the years, there might be several owners that have access through a piece of property.

 

Check the Easement and be Reasonable

 

Sometimes, easements can cause friction between the owner of the property (servient estate) where the access runs through and the holder of the easement (dominant estate). Over time circumstances may change or repairs are needed on the right of way. A well-drafted easement will lay out how changes, repairs, restrictions, and other issues are to be handled. For example, the owner, at some point in the future, may want to place a gate on the access road. This sounds reasonable enough, but just to be sure…check the easement. With a gate, as long it is reasonable and doesn’t restrict the dominant estate holders’ rights to the right of way then it is probably within the property owner’s right to install it. Nevertheless, check the property deed, the easement should be filed with the county recorder and it should be defined in the property’s legal description on the deed.

 

If you are the servient estate and are thinking about making changges to the right of way or putting up a gate on the road, talk with the other parties, and see if you can all come up with a reasonable solution. Talking and getting others’ “buy-in” on the proposed changes will help avoid headaches, arguments, or legal entanglements.  Then check the deed to make sure you aren’t violating the easement holders’ rights. Plus, it’s a good time to ask for the easement holders to fork over some money to help defray maintenance costs on the right of way (if applicable).

 

Good luck out there…and don’t let other’s bully you out of your seat at church unless they have the paperwork. Then politely apologize and move.

 

-Jim