Ever wonder why a utility worker can cross your property line without asking for your permission? Or how some individuals are able to use their neighbor’s land to get in and out of their home without asking their neighbor each time they do?
An easement (sometimes called a “right-of-way”) is when an individual or organization has the legal right to pass through another’s land (or use it) for a specific reason. For a utility worker, for example, the purpose could be to check the home’s water meter to ensure it’s working properly. Another example could be if one rural property has a water well that a neighboring property would like to access, so the property owners negotiate an access easement that allows the neighbor to access the well when they want to.
There are many types of easements, but some common examples include:
- Easement by necessity. This is when the easement is required for some reason. For instance, if the only way in and out of your property is by passing through your neighbor’s lot, an easement by necessity would be created.
- Utility easement. Utility companies sometimes need to access properties for city-approved purposes. Perhaps the utility company needs to replace the underground sewer lines in your backyard or erect another power line post at the edge of your fence. Whatever the reason, this easement lets utility workers work and move on to their next job rather than spend their time knocking on doors begging homeowners for permission to enter their land.
- Private easement. This is when one landowner sells access to a section of their property, like a pathway, to another so they can accomplish an action, like get to a water well. It can also exist to prevent a landowner from doing something, such as removing a section of trees that conceals one property from another. This type of easement should be placed on a property’s land title (the document that identifies a property’s location, ownership, and more), which ensures that an easement can be purchased (or sold) without being overridden when the property transfers to a new owner in the future.
Once in place, an easement can be very difficult, and in some cases impossible, to remove and interfering with one can result in severe financial and legal consequences such as fines and court orders. Thus, it is highly recommended to review a property’s land title, and all of its potential easements, before buying a home. Sellers can also save time and money by highlighting any property easements before preparing their Real Estate Purchase Agreement to sign with a potential buyer.
Although easements can be tricky to understand, knowing why they exist and that some can be found on a property’s title is important. Before negotiating or agreeing to terms regarding an easement for your own property, be sure to do more research and consider seeking the advice of a local attorney.