Easements go way back to the early days of land ownership and can be tricky to understand. Let’s unravel and demystify them.
There are different types of easements and various reasons for easements, but the basic concept is simple: Easements are, in essence, the legal right for someone else to use your property for a specific purpose. For example, if there’s a path running across your property leading to a private lake that someone else requires access to, they’ll have an easement giving them access.
Easements are recorded deeds that usually remain even if ownership of the property changes – but sometimes not. We’ll get into that later.
Shared driveways, access roads, utilities and Homeowner Association (HOA) requirements are the most common reasons for easements.
Driveways: Sometimes, two neighbors share one driveway, while it is technically owned by only one. The Neighbor who uses the driveway but does not own it has an easement right for access and the right to use that driveway. I often get asked, in this case, who pays for the driveway’s maintenance? Technically the owner of the land is responsible, but oftentimes good neighbors come together and decide to share the cost.
Access Roads: An easement might exist if several neighbors have the right to a common lake or pool but have to walk on a neighbor’s property to access it.
Utilities: If you ever notice power lines running above your home, or if you notice a meter reader accessing their utility meter, these activities are usually permitted because of utility easements that give companies and their personnel a right to access such equipment.
HOAs and Condos: If you live in a condo or a neighborhood with a pool or greenbelt where there is a Homeowner Association, chances are easements are recorded. The easements give you the right to access to the walkways to reach your home or to use common areas, even though these areas may technically be owned collectively by the HOA.
Some easements, like those for homes in new subdivisions and condo developments are created at the time the building is developed. These easements are called appurtenant easements – this means the easement “runs with the land”, so even if the owner changes, the easement does not terminate and applies to the new owner. Easements in gross, on the other hand, means the easement lasts only while that specific person is the owner. Once that owner sells, the easement terminates. (Sometimes these get a little creepy and state that someone can use a property until they die, but that no new people can inherit it.)
Easements in gross, are the less common type; most easements in the United States are appurtenant easements (which last forever).
Unrecorded Easements: Oops!
Sometimes easements don’t get recorded, which of course isn’t an ideal scenario; it can get tricky and usually requires professional legal assistance. The same goes for unrecorded encroachments. For example: If a neighbor is using your property without permission it will first be an encroachment, but it can actually become an easement if unchecked for a long period of time. If you think you have one of these issues, it’s best to talk to an attorney. If you need help connecting with a solid legal expert, let us know and we will connect you.
Easements can be found in your property title report, or through a records search, or by searching their database of the local county recorder’s office. NILE clients can find this information in our proprietary Dashboard software (if it has been digitized and is available). While most of these items have been digitized, sometimes, it takes a good old-fashioned visit to the county recorder’s office.
If you have any questions about easements, shoot us a message and we’ll be happy to help – it’s one of our favorite topics here at NILE.