Easement vs. Right-of-Way (ROW)

visual of where an easement it and where right-of-way is

Learn the difference between an easement and a right-of-way.

Below are brief explanations of the areas identified by a number in the image on this page. Note: hatched lines illustrate the ROW.

  1. There is no sidewalk and the ROW extends a little bit into the yard.
  2. The sidewalk is next to the street/curb. The ROW goes to across the sidewalk and ends at the edge of the sidewalk nearest to the home and next to the grass.
  3. The sidewalk is next to the street/curb. The ROW extends across the sidewalk and slightly into the grass.
  4. There is a patch of grass between the street/curb and the sidewalk. The ROW begins at the street/curb, goes through the grass, and extends to the far side of the sidewalk nearest to the home.

The City often receives questions about the difference between "right-of-way" and "easements." These terms are used to describe interests in property owned or controlled by the City, other governments, and public utilities. This is a brief description of how those terms are used to define interests owned by the City. The description does not define how those terms may be used by other entities.


The term "right-of-way" is used in many contexts; from describing a property. When describing a property interest, the term generally refers to land used for transportation purposes. Although most people think of vehicles when using the word transportation, it is also used to describe movement of a good like electricity, water, natural gas, or oil. Right-of-way interests are held for uses like railroads, electric transmission lines, pipelines, ditches and roadways.

In Centennial, the term right-of-way is used to identify a property interest held by the City in trust for public use. The City holds these rights in fee and maintains authority to regulate how and when it may be used by members of the public, and public or private entities.

When thinking of right-of-way in Centennial, picture the public roadway, plus a portion of space adjacent to the traveled portion of the roadway. The width of the right-of-way is not limited to the paved or concrete portion of the roadway. Where the sidewalk is attached to the curb (versus when there is separation between the back of curb and the sidewalk), the right-of-way often extends several feet beyond that identifiable landmark. In many residential subdivisions in the City, the right-of-way extends into an area that is frequently assumed to be private property. The actual width of the right-of-way owned by the City at a specific location is, therefore, not always readily identifiable. It is defined on the plat of the subdivision or other conveyance document and can be identified on the ground by a surveyor. It is important to recognize that the location of the right-of-way is not uniform nor consistent throughout the City.

Utility providers (e.g., water, sewer, telecommunications) may place their facilities in the public right-of-way. In some instances, federal and state law provide the City little control to prevent use of the right-of-way by these providers. The City manages work in the right-of-way through the Centennial Right-of-Way Regulations. Before work in the right-of-way starts, a company must obtain a permit from the City. The permit does not cover or allow work by those companies outside of the right-of-way.

Landowners also have some obligations when it comes to right-of-way. Under Section 12-11-209 of the City's Land Development Code, landowners must maintain landscaping within the right-of-way abutting their property.


An "easement" is the right to use the property of another for some defined purpose. The purpose and terms of an easement are usually described in the document conveying the property interest. The location of an easement on a specific property can be identified through a review of the title work. This type of property investigation should provide links to plats, easements or other documents impacting title to the property.

Utility easements exist on most property within the City and are for use by public utility service providers. These easements permit utility companies to access private property to construct, install, maintain, protect, and repair their facilities. The facilities may include such things as overhead electric lines, hand holes, underground water and sewer lines, or junction boxes. The rights in any easement are generally superior to the rights held by the landowner. The location of underground utilities on a property can be determined through calling 811.