Easing the Complications of Easements

It’s important to understand the facets of easements if you have one or more associated with the property you’re interested in purchasing. These documents can seem simple, but they can add more complications to a land purchase than just about any other detail of a sale.

An easement is an arrangement where a non-owner of a piece of property has the legal right to either use the property for their needs, or limit its use by another party in a specific way. The word “easement” can mean many different things when it comes to rural property – a utility power line easement or a water company easement are obvious, because in many cases you can see them on the property, and they should show up on a title commitment.

But one of the most important easements grants legal access to the property if it doesn’t currently have public road frontage. I recall a client that purchased a property that adjoined a national forest; it turned out there was an easement that allowed for the forest service to use the roads through the property. This is why it’s important to do a records search –the buyer did, and determined the rights granted by the easement to the forest service were acceptable.

What are the main things to look for as a buyer?

  • Check into the title commitment, and be aware of any easements on record. There should be documents that outline the width, length and legal description of the easement centerline and boundaries;
  • Check to see whether the easement is exclusive or others may use it;
  • See if the easement is transferable; and,
  • Check to see if there is a maintenance agreement in place, which shows who is responsible for any maintenance, especially if more than one party has use of the easement.

Mark Knight, Davis DuBose Forestry & Real Estate Consultants

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