[Below is a Q&A article about the rights of a person selling their land, but retaining the right to hunt on that land, as posted on Village Soup]
Q. I am about to buy a tract of undeveloped woodland in western Maine, but the seller hs just told me he wants me to include wording in the contract allowing him to hunt and camp on the property for the rest of his life. He’s an old codger, so I don’t imagine “the rest of his life” will be that long, frankly. But I have never heard of this kind of thing, and wonder if I could be getting myself into some kind of situation, either with him, or other hunters, as I intend to post it No Hunting and No Trespassing as far as the general public is concerned. Any advice?
You would be able to grant the seller the right to hunt and camp on the land for the rest of his life. There are a couple ways that this can be done. One would be through an easement deed where you grant the seller the right to hunt and fish on the land for as long as he lives. This would be an easement “in gross” to the seller, meaning the easement rights (in this case to fish and hunt) are reserved to him only, and they do not get passed on to anyone else. You would need to be sure the easement was carefully drafted to not inadvertently give up too many rights to your newly purchased land.
Another way to do this would be to grant the seller a license to access the land for hunting and fishing. This is similar to the easement, but with the important difference being that a license can be revoked by you, unlike an easement. If you wanted to have certain restrictions on the access to the property, the license may provide an easier way to enforce those restrictions. A license is more like a lift ticket at a ski resort that allows someone to be on the property for a certain purpose. If the seller were to violate the agreement, you would be able to terminate the license, and anytime he accessed your land he would be trespassing.
You would still be able to post your land to notify others that you do not allow access to the general public. The seller, through an easement or license, would be legally permitted to go onto the land and to hunt. If you wanted certain restrictions, perhaps prohibiting hunting on certain days, enforcement could be challenging. Like most property rights, a dispute would be a civil matter for the courts. If the seller were to go beyond the scope of the rights you granted, and refused to stop exceeding their granted rights, you would need to seek an injunction from the court. While you may have an easier time in court with a clearly revoked license, a court proceeding to restrict the seller will still take time and money.
With either the license or the easement, it will be important to make sure that the rights you are granting are clearly defined. Most disputes over easement rights are the result of vague language that the two sides argue have different meanings. It is best to consult a lawyer in deciding how best to accomplish the wishes of both parties, and to ensure that the agreement is legally enforceable.
For more information on property rights, visit Teel Law Office.