Property easements — what they are, how they work, types of easements, and more

Property easements are more common than many people think. If you're planning to buy a new piece of property, you may want to check if any easements apply to it before you finalize your purchase. Want to know more about property easements? Here's a little information over the basics including what property easements are, how they work and the different types of them most commonly used today. While reading over this information, keep in mind that the laws can be quite different depending on the state in which the property is located.

What Are Property Easements?

To put it simply, an easement is the legal right to use the property belong to someone else for a specified purpose. Property easements are generally categorized as either negative or affirmative. A negative easement grants the title holder the right to not allow their property to be used by anyone else, while an affirmative easement allows the property to be used for a particular purpose that is legally deemed.

How Do Easements Work?

Any applicable easements are usually referred to in the deed for the property or on the title prepared by the title insurance company or professional real estate attorney. Easements are attached to the property, so they don't ever change if the title is transferred. In most states, it's not necessarily a requirement for previous owners to notify buyers of any easements on the property. This is why it's recommended that new home buyers find out if the property they are interested in has any easements that come with it before agreeing to the sale.

Types of Easements

Below are just a few of the most common types of property easements and what they might encompass. Don't forget that the laws and regulations regarding property easements vary by state to state, so it's important to look up the specific property easement laws in your area before purchasing property to avoid surprises.

- Utility Easements

Utility easements are usually given to a municipal utility company or the city and is by far the most common type of property easement. For example, a utility company may be provided an easement that allows them to use the property to run utility pipe lines and perform maintenance on them. If a piece of property holds this type of easement, the daily lives of the property owners is not really affected. They're able to live on the property, plant on it and even build on it as long as there's no interference with the city's use of the easement. There are many ways to find out which areas of the property are required to be in adherence of the easement laws. If need be, property owners should call the utility company or city hall to ask for a map of the easement locations. An official survey of the land will also display the location of any applicable utility easements.

- Private Easements

Some properties may also have a private easement. These kind of easements allow a private party to use a portion of the property for an explicit reason. Common private easements are in the instance of your neighbor having to take a path through your land in order to get to theirs, for sewer usage or even solar access. For example, if your neighbor has a private easement on your property, you may not be able to build or grow trees or plants that block sunlight from hitting their solar collectors. A few other examples of private easement are pathways or driveways that run through the property. If planning to purchase a piece of property, make sure you do your research in order to find out if it has any private easements attached to it. You should call the country clerk in order to locate the records associated with the property and keep a copy of them with your deed.

- Easements by Necessity

Sometimes a property easement doesn't even have to be written down and documented if it is absolutely necessary. When this occurs, it's known as an easement by necessity. For instance, if it is absolutely necessary for someone to cross your land for a legitimate reason, the law grants rightful access to the property. If the property is subject to an easement by necessity, by law the landowner must not interfere with the neighbor's access.

 - Prescriptive Easements

A prescriptive easement is a type of legal ownership by another party over a particular piece of the property for a specific period of time. This may occur when a neighbor needs access to a driveway, path or shortcut and so they buy the rights. The length of prescriptive easements varies by state, but it's usually somewhere round 10-20 years. Prescriptive easements and adverse possession are fairly similar, but there are a couple of major differences that set the apart. In some states, the neighbors using a portion of the property are not required to pay property taxes on it if they choose to purchase a prescriptive easement. It's really in the best interest of the property owner to avoid prescriptive easements by discussing the terms with the neighbors and granting them written permission to use the property. If you give them written permission, they are no longer legally considered a trespasser, so they are not allowed to file a prescriptive easement on the property.

These are just a few type of easements that may affect property. Since every situation is unique, there are many other special circumstances which may call for a different kind of easement. To prevent any surprises down the road, you definitely want to look into easements on any property you are considering purchasing. As mentioned above, the laws and statutes regarding property easements can vary from state to state. To get a better understanding of the specifics in regards to property easements in your state, you should get in touch with a local real estate attorney. He or she should be able to provide you with the legal documents pertaining to the different kind of property easements applicable to your area.

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