WHAT IS AN EASEMENT?
Easements are one of those seldom thought-of items that when they do rear their ugly head can be a source of frustration and even litigation. The right of a third party-a person or entity-to access and/or use land that you own for a specific purpose, easements come in many varieties of scale and impact. Some are minor, such as a neighbor needing part of your driveway in order to gain entry to his yard; others, falling under the term “easement appurtenant,” could be as potentially disruptive as a beach access road or path open to the public crossing over your property.
Among the most common property easements are those held by utilities and the Department of Transportation. Such easements allow power companies to install and maintain towers and power lines and entitle the DOT to expand a road and replace water pipes as the need arises. Property owners can still utilize this portion of the land as long as their use does not impede the easement holder’s ability to use its easement. Erecting a non-permanent fixture such as a fence is permissible, while putting in a garage or other type of permanent structure will be considered to unduly interfere with the rights of the easement holder.
THE BURDEN ON THE PROPERTY OWNER
Regardless of the type of easement, property values could suffer because of the potential for unsightliness and inconvenience. In addition, easements don’t typically come with expiration dates, so even as a new owner of a property you’re still inheriting the previous owner’s responsibility to observe the easement holder’s rights and privileges. It’s also important to note that no matter the percentage of land under an easement, property owners are still obligated to pay taxes on the entire parcel.
HOW TO FIND EASEMENT INFORMATION ON A PROPERTY
Given the potential headache an easement can become, it’s crucial that you’re fully aware of any restrictions and requirements tied to a property before proceeding with a sale. Thankfully, there are several options available to you in order to determine the number and type of existing easements.
If you are purchasing a home, typically you would obtain title insurance along with that purchase. As part of the title insurance process, a title company conducts a search to ensure that the title is legitimate and will also generate a report that details any and all issues associated with the property, including easements, outstanding mortgages, liens, judgments or unpaid taxes.
If there is a suspected issue concerning easements on your property you can hire a title insurance company, or private title searcher, to perform a search for easements on the property in question. Depending on the complexity of the search, they may charge a fee for their services, but a good title company will provide you with a comprehensive report.
The deed to the property is another source of information and will have the easements listed and defined as part of its legal description. If a copy of the deed isn’t readily accessible you can obtain one from the county clerk or recorder. Be sure to have the address, parcel number, and current property owner’s name when making the request.
Similarly, the county or city zoning/mapping department is often in charge of keeping records of surveys and plot maps. These documents will contain information on a specific property’s easements, including the exact measurements of the portion of the property considered the easement.
Lastly, you can also contact the utility company or public works department with equipment on the property and request easement information as well as the particular rights of the easement holder.
No matter how you do your research it’s well worth the time and effort to be informed of any easements or other issues related to the property you want to purchase, before a sale is finalized.