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When you buy a house, there’s a chance you’ll need to share a portion of your land — such as a private road or path — with someone else. An easement grants someone this right for a specific purpose.
While it might sound strange to allow others the right to use your property, easements are fairly common. As a property owner, though, you should understand how they work and when you might uncover one.
Here’s what you need to know about easements:
- What is an easement?
- Types of easements
- How easements are created
- What easements mean for homebuyers
What is an easement?
A property easement is an agreement for someone else to use your land in some way without actually owning it. This term may come up when your real estate attorney or title company is researching the history of your home.
Types of easements
There are multiple types of land easements. Some are tied to the property itself, while others may be associated with specific people.
An easement appurtenant is tied to the property itself, so it remains in place no matter who owns the home.
The person who grants access to the property is called the servient estate or servient tenement. The people who are allowed to use the piece of property are the dominant estate or dominant tenement.
Easement in gross
This type of easement is tied to a person or entity, not the property itself.
You may transfer the easement in gross to the new owner when you sell the home. The new owner may deny the easement — although a public entity such as a utility can legally challenge their decision.
Easement by prescription
This type of easement, also referred to as a prescriptive easement, is created when someone openly and continuously uses another person’s land for a long time without permission.
The exact period of time needed for this type of easement depends on state law.
Learn More: How to Know If You Should Buy a House
How easements are created
Property easements may be created by a legal document or a mutual verbal agreement, though the latter can be harder to prove and therefore harder to enforce.
The method you use usually depends on the reason behind the easement and whether you can amicably reach an agreement with the other party.
An express easement is created when two people agree on the terms of the easement, write out those terms on a legal document, and sign it.
Easement by necessity
If your neighbor has no choice but to use your property, this creates an easement by necessity. Once the issue is resolved, you and your neighbor may decide to terminate the easement.
This type of easement isn’t documented because both parties agree to it, and the arrangement hasn’t caused problems.
What easements mean for homebuyers
Homebuyers typically discover property easements through three ways:
- The seller discloses a land easement before you put in an offer.
- The title researcher uncovers one during the title search.
- You research the property yourself through the local assessor’s office or county clerk’s office.
If you’re buying a home, you should find out whether any easements are associated with it. You’ll also need to learn the purpose behind the easement and how it will impact your homeownership experience.
Prescriptive easements may cause headaches down the road, so inspect your property before closing on the home.
Talk with your neighbors if they’re encroaching on your land. You may decide to offer written permission for them to use your property, so the terms are clear.
A title researcher or the seller should tell you about relevant easements during the homebuying process. They’ll provide disclosures that explain how you and other parties can use your property.
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How to remove an easement
In most cases, a land easement is a legally binding agreement that all parties involved must honor. If one party doesn’t follow the rules laid out in the agreement, the other party may sue.
For example, if you prevent your neighbor from using a shared path on your property, they may take you to court. But if that person constantly crosses other parts of your property, then you might be able to sue them if discussions won’t solve the problem.
To actually terminate an easement, you have a few options:
- Take the other party to court.
- Wait out the easement, if there’s an expiration date.
- If you created the easement, register the termination on the deed.
- Discuss the problem with the other party and reach a mutually beneficial agreement.
- Buy out the other person’s property and merge the land.
If you do get rid of an easement, register the termination at the local recorder’s office. They may charge a fee, but this process can help prevent future issues with the title.
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