So you bought the perfect property and now you’re ready to build your dream home; until you take a look at your title paperwork and see an unfamiliar word: easement. No, this isn’t a hybrid term for an easy access basement. Nor is it a scary roadblock on your way to property bliss. Believe it or not, most properties have easements. In fact, chances are, you’ve dealt with them before.
Don’t believe us? Check out Easements 101: What are they and why are they important?
So what’s an Easement anyway?
In short, an easement is the “legal right given to another person or entity to trespass upon or use land owned by someone else.” There, we got the technical definition out of the way. Now let’s simplify it.
An easement is a portion of land designated accessible to others beyond the land owner. This can be anything from a shared driveway to a cable line that happens to be on your property. Almost every home has an easement, with the most common one being for utility purposes.
Easements and their many forms
There are many different forms of easements. Some more common than others, and some are so rare you’ll likely never come across them. So take it “easey” (get it) and get to know the types of easements worth knowing about:
- Right-of-way easement – Where people are allowed to pass through a defined piece of land on your property. i.e. a neighbor may need to pass through your driveway to access the main road.
- Easement of Services – Used for utility purposes to convey essential services to a community. i.e. an electrical box may sit on your property but the cable company has access to it whenever they choose.
- HOA/Condo easement – Communal living where the condo or Home Owners Association owns most of the property but allows residents to have access to it. i.e. public benches, sidewalks, medians within the grounds.
- Easement of support – Similar to easement of services, this easement is public based and typically requires excavation of some kind. i.e. establishing a drainage pipeline for the whole neighborhood.
- Easements of “light and air” – May restrict the construction of a larger building in favor of a neighbor’s right to “light or air”. i.e. your neighbor wants to build a large barn on their property but an easement restricts them based on the location of the barn limiting your view.
- Conservation easement – Ensures that the protected resources on your property will never be destroyed or developed. i.e. a working farm, wildlife habitat, river or creek, or open spaces with scenic value.
- Easement by prescription – This tricky little guy accidently grants an easement to a person who uses a piece of your land for more than 5 years for the same purpose. Even without a formal agreement, the length of time serves as the unintentional contract.
How is an easement created?
Now that you know the what, let’s focus on the how. Creating an easement can be as simple as approaching a neighbor for permission to access their land. Offering up payment to that land owner is always a nice incentive. No matter what, once an agreement is reached, make sure to get it in a legal document such as a deed.
There are two types of easement grants to be aware of:
- In gross – Only pertains to the person dealing with the easement at the time of the agreement. If the land sells to a different owner, the original agreement does not apply.
- Appurtenant – Attached to the land. Selling the property will transfer the agreement to the new owner. Sort of a set in stone kind of thing.
A few things to note:
Even though the easement is accessible to others, if it is on your property you may be responsible for the maintenance of it. i.e. mowing the lawn. An easement can be terminated in court if there is evidence it is being used for unreasonable purposes, like a beach access was established but growth in the area began bringing in more than usual traffic.
Why are easements important?
In case you haven’t noticed, easements are everywhere. They’re the roads you drive on, the driveway behind a neighbor’s house, the trails you use to walk your dog, the parks you play in, and so much more. Easements help keep the peace between neighbors and communities.
In the case of a landlocked piece of land an easement can literally make or break the property. When a parcel is landlocked, it means the property is not accessible without trespassing on another’s land to get there. Establishing an easement with the neighbors will grant you instant access to an otherwise unusable lot.
So there you have it. Easements 101. Remember, you can find the necessary information on any property’s easement on the Property Title. Sometimes, easement research needs to be done by contacting the county or by paying for a title report through a title company. Now, go out there and share your land in confidence.