When you purchase a piece of land, you may believe that you automatically gain ownership over every square foot of the property. In reality, it’s possible for other individuals or organizations to have limited access to your property for certain purposes. This access is referred to as an easement. An example of an easement is when your property may exist between your neighbor’s property and the only public road that your neighbor has access to. In this situation, your neighbor would likely be given an easement to pass through your property when they need to get to the public road.
If you’re getting ready to buy a new home or property, it’s important that you identify if any easements are found on the property. You may have a better position in negotiations if you know about the various property easements. Keep in mind that basements aren’t attached to the property owner but are instead attached to the property, which means that these easements will transfer to you once you purchase the property in question.
If you purchase a piece of land that has yet to be developed or has an existing structure that you want to demolish and rebuild, you should take easements into account before beginning development. Any changes you make to your property cannot alter the current easements. In the event that your building plans show that alterations are set to be made to the easement areas on your property, the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety won’t approve your building permit application. Instead, you’ll be tasked with making changes to your permit application before it can be approved, which only serves to delay development.
There are many different types of easements that can exist on your land, which include everything from utility easements and private easements to prescriptive easements and implied easements. If you find that one or more easements exist on your property, it’s important that you learn about these easements and what they entail. The following guide explains everything you should know about property easements.
Can an Easement Affect My Ownership of a Property?
As touched upon previously, any easement that has been attached to the property will remain on the property even when ownership changes hands. If an agreement for an easement is in place, you can’t revoke this agreement. In the event that the easement holder wants to gain access to the easement area on your property, you’re required by law to grant access.
If you attempt to block someone from using their easement, you could be taken to court, which would likely cause you to lose a substantial sum of money in court costs. Easements are commonly granted by the property owner. While it’s common for two parties to agree to an easement without the agreement being written down, the recommended method is to create a written agreement that can be referenced later on.
Finding Out if My Property has an Easement
Before improving or purchasing a property, it’s important that you find out if your property has an easement. If you happen to use the easement in a manner that goes against the easement holder’s rights, you would likely experience a financial loss once the easement holder finds out.
Let’s say that you build a shed or place a fence in the easement area. In this situation, you would be required to tear your work down, which means that your initial investment would be lost. You can avoid making this mistake by finding out if your property has an easement before you purchase the property or before any work is done. It’s relatively common for properties to contain easements. Some resources that can help you identify if there are any easements on your property include:
- City hall
- The county land records office
- A property survey
- Utility companies in the area
- A title search
If you purchase title insurance, you can gain some protection against undisclosed easements that weren’t found before you were given a title policy.
FAQs About Easements
What is a Prescriptive Easement vs. Adverse Possession?
Prescriptive easements and adverse possessions are both considered to be hostile easements that most property owners don’t want to grant. If a portion of your property is used by a neighbor or other entity for a lengthy period of time without your permission, a prescriptive easement or adverse possession could be granted. However, there are some clear differences between prescriptive easements and adverse possessions that you should be aware of.
A prescriptive easement is preferable to adverse possession. If a prescriptive easement is granted, a neighbor or the public could gain limited access to a portion of your property after a lengthy period of time. On the other hand, an adverse possession could provide the other entity with full ownership of your entire property even though they were originally trespassing.
While prescriptive easements and adverse possessions can create problems with your ownership of a piece of land, it’s important to understand that the land will need to be used in a certain way for anywhere from 10-20 years. The exact duration of time differs with each state. If you want to avoid losing ownership of your property because of an adverse possession claim, all you need to do is be present on your land from time to time. To avoid a prescriptive easement, make sure that you don’t let other people use a portion of your property without written permission.
What is a Negative Easement?
A negative easement is designed to make sure that the property owner doesn’t perform any kind of development that comes into conflict with the property easement. For instance, it’s possible that your neighbor could claim a negative easement for views or light, which means that you can’t develop your property in a manner that would directly block views or sunlight. When an individual successfully obtains a negative easement against their neighbor, the neighbor in question would be tasked with tearing down any work that conflicts with the negative easement.
Can I End an Easement on My Property?
If you find that one or more easements exist on your property once you purchase it, you may want to end the easement to gain full ownership of your property. However, ending an easement is almost impossible. Despite the fact that most easement agreements are made between the existing property owner and another entity, the easement is immediately attached to the property as opposed to the owner. Even if ownership of the property has been transferred several times since the easement was put in place, it would still be difficult to remove it.
As mentioned previously, there also doesn’t need to be a verbal or written agreement in place for an easement to exist. If a prescriptive easement is granted to the public or your neighbor, this easement would remain in place even if you didn’t agree to it. Despite the difficulty, there are some situations that would allow you to end an easement on your property. However, you would likely need to retain a lawyer if you want to explore your options.
What is an Easement Appurtenant?
An easement appurtenant is any easement that exists on one piece of land but benefits another piece of land. The piece of land that benefits from the easement is considered to be the dominant tenement. On the other hand, the piece of land that the easement is situated on is considered to be the servient tenement.
The example mentioned earlier is considered to be an easement appurtenant. When one property is landlocked and doesn’t have access to a public road, the property owner could obtain an easement appurtenant that allows them to get to the road through another person’s property. It’s important to understand what this type of easement is if you want to make sure that it doesn’t occur with your property.
Avoiding Legal Disputes Over Easements
If you want to avoid a legal dispute over an easement on your property, the best way to go about this is to not interfere with the stated purpose of the property easement. If you end up interfering with the easement, you would invariably be liable for any damage that occurred to the easement and could be taken to court if the issues aren’t resolved immediately. When a dispute occurs or you believe that someone is accessing your property without having an easement, it’s highly recommended that you hire a reputable lawyer to help you navigate the situation.
Easement laws differ from state to state, which is why you should have someone by your side who understands the laws in your area. You might also want to consult with an experienced lawyer if you find that the easement wasn’t put into writing when the agreement was first made. It’s possible that you would be able to nullify the agreement in this situation. If an easement agreement was written down, it would likely be found in title papers or a deed.
Final Thoughts on Property Easements
A property easement is a special type of agreement or claim that allows the public, a utility, or a neighbor to use a certain portion of your property for a specific purpose. The many different types of easements include an easement appurtenant, utility easements, private easements, negative easements, and prescriptive easements.
In most cases, you won’t be able to get rid of an easement that has been placed on your property. Removing or canceling an easement is very difficult and usually requires the help of a lawyer. If you have yet to purchase a property but are in the process of doing so, finding out if any easements exist on the property is essential.
While homeowners usually find easements to be frustrating, many property owners benefit from an easement because they aren’t affected by it. Keep in mind that it’s possible that your property value would actually increase because of an easement being in place. It’s rare for an easement to have negative consequences for a property owner.
As touched upon earlier, easements are tied to building permits. If your current building plans are set to change the easement in any way, your building permit application would invariably be denied. You can avoid this issue and any development delays by identifying easements immediately and making sure that your building plans take any easements into account.
Jason Somers, President & Founder of Crest Real Estate
With over 15 years of professional experience in the Los Angeles luxury real estate market, Jason Somers has the background, judgement and track record to provide an unparalleled level of real estate services. His widespread knowledge helps clients identify and acquire income producing properties and value-ad development opportunities.