When looking in the fine print for a piece of land, you may see one or more types of easements listed. These easements dictate who else is able to access your land, for what purpose, and for how long.
It’s important to have a firm grasp on easements both as a buyer and as a seller. For buyers, understanding easements is crucial for setting the right expectations about land usage. And sellers will want to know about any easements on their land so they can accurately market their property.
Not fluent in legalese? You’re not alone. Here are four common types of land easements you may come across.
1. Utility Easements
These are the most common types of land easements. Cities and towns often require easements through private property in order to run utility lines, and if you have this particular easement on a property that you own, you won’t be able to interfere with the utility’s placement or functioning.
Utility easements are listed on property deeds or certificates of title (or both) and specify what the utility is and who owns it—usually either the municipality or the utility company. For the most part, these types of easements don’t interfere with usage of the land, so long as the utility lines are left alone.
2. Easements by Necessity
Depending on the location of your land, you may have a neighbor who needs to pass through it in order to access their own property. This is called an easement by necessity, and is granted when a nearby property owner has no other route to get where they need to go. This type of easement doesn’t impact your use of the land—it just means that your neighbor has a legal right to cross through your land when they have no other choice but to do so, and that you cannot interfere with their access.
3. Private Easements
Land owners are able to grant private easements to others. For example, an easement for an uphill neighbor to run their driveway through a privately owned property. Private easements can complicate sales, since once granted they’re rather difficult to get rid of (if you’re able to get rid of them at all).
As a seller, it’s your responsibility to fill in any potential buyer regarding private easements on your land. And as a buyer, you’ll want to do some digging through a property’s easement documents to see which—if any—private easements have been granted and how they might affect you.
4. Prescriptive Easements
Prescriptive easements can refer to a lot of different things related to access to and/or use of your land from someone who is not you, with the main differentiating factor being that they expire after a set period—generally about 10 to 20 years. The regulations around prescriptive easements vary by state.
You may be able to work around a prescriptive easement by granting written access to the party in question. This allows them to continue accessing your land for a designated purpose, but strips away their legal allowance to do so. It’s always a good idea to have an attorney look over any easements related to a property you want to buy or sell. This way, you can make sure you know what you’re getting into so there are no surprises later on.