Easements and Rights-of-Way

An easement is the right to use another person's land for a specific purpose. It can be written so that it applies to a property in general or to a specific portion of the land. Easements can cover any issue on which the two parties agree, and they usually become a permanent part of the deeds for both parcels. A right-of-way is a special type of easement that gives someone the right to travel across property owned by another person.

An easement doesn't have to be given to an individual. It might be written to benefit a property instead. For example, Mr. Smith gives current and future owners of a neighboring piece of land the right to cross his property to access a nearby lake. The adjacent landowner might be allowed to build a roadway or simply use an existing road. Another type of easement could allow the neighboring property owner to install a private well on Mr. Smith's property, with permanent water lines leading to the adjacent parcel.

A permanent easement can also benefit a business or an organization. A utility company might have the right to erect power lines or bury utility lines on a tract of land. A housing development could be granted an easement that allows it to build and maintain a water storage facility on someone else's property.

Easements can also benefit an individual. Mr. Smith might allow a specific person to cross his property to access the lake without attaching the permission to a piece of land. This type of easement normally expires at a specific time or event or upon the death of the person who benefits from it. These easements are not usually added to a deed description.

Potential Problems

Easements can have a negative effect on property values. The landowner who grants the easement usually cannot build structures within the easement area or use fencing that would hinder access to the easement owner.

Before you purchase any property, you should know where all of the easements are located and exactly how they restrict your use of the land. Knowing the details about easements is critical for any land you purchase, whether it's residential, commercial, or industrial.

Another downside of easements is buyer perception. Potential buyers are often turned off by the fact that others have any type of right to use the land. If the easement is for something like high-tension power lines, the negative feelings are even stronger. Not only are those lines unattractive, many people consider them to be a health risk.

Just because an easement is not being used doesn't mean it will never be used. If an easement is a permanent part of your deed, there's always a chance that the individual who benefits from it will decide to take advantage of it. Talk with an experienced real-estate attorney to find out what steps you can take to remove an unused easement from your deed.

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