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Easements vs. Right of Ways – What’s the Difference?

The Public Works Department often gets questions from residents about the distinction between a right of way and an easement—how are they the same, how are they different? Here are a few high-level pointers to help clarify that difference.

What is an Easement?

Easements are “nonpossessory interests in real property.” Simply put, easements allow one party the right to use another’s property for a specific purpose. Many easements are for utility maintenance or emergency access. Easements do not transfer ownership of the land; ownership stays with its original owner.

If there is an easement on your property, its terms are usually clearly defined in the property deed so that it will persist regardless of if the property is sold or transferred. People purchasing new property should have the title researched so they can understand where easements are located, as anything built in the easement can be removed by the entity that holds that easement.

There are utility easements on most properties in Greeley, and these easements allow utility companies to work on private property to build, maintain, protect, or fix their facilities (pipelines, telephone/electric cables, water and sewer lines, junction boxes etc.).

What is a Right of Way?

A right of way allows parties to travel across a property—this may be granted to the general public or to a specific entity. Right of ways are more restrictive than easements because they do not allow the public or entity to use the property, just move through it.

In Greeley, right of ways extend beyond the public roadway to include the area where the curb attaches to the sidewalk and often several feet beyond, into what many understandably assume to be private property. The specific right of way locations on properties may not be consistent across the city—they are defined on the plat of the subdivision, or they can be determined by a surveyor.

Utility providers such as telecommunications companies may use the public right-of-way for their services. There are guidelines, standards and procedures for these utility crossings, and entities must obtain a “crossing approval” from the City. A crossing approval is required whenever a utility plans to cross a water or sewer facility, which are owned by the City.

Right of Way versus Easement graphic
Click the graphic to view a full-size version. Used with permission by the city of Centennial, Colorado.

Contact Us

Public Works

2835 W. 10th St
Greeley, CO 80631

Monday - Friday
7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.


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