What You Need to Know about Easements
Every so often during the closing process, an easement will be discovered on the property you are hoping to buy. An easement allows a third party to access or cross the land for a specific purpose, and usually isn't something you can change just because you now own the property.
In case this happens to you during closing, it will help to understand what an easement is, when it might be a problem, and whether it should be a deal breaker for you. Keep reading for everything you need to know about easements.
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What is an easement?
The first question on your mind might be: what is an easement anyway? An easement is a legal right for a third party (not you as the homeowner or your tenants) to access or cross the property for a specified purpose. This legal right is attached to the property title, and might be there for a variety of reasons.
For example, the property may have been constructed after a neighboring business or property was already in existence, and crossing the property is required to maintain access. Let's say the only way your neighbor can access their driveway is to first cross yours; in this case, an easement might be present to protect their legal right to access their own driveway at any time. An easement might also allow a utility worker to access essential infrastructure to repair a power line, or allow a city worker to access a water line that lies below your property.
The previous examples would qualify as affirmative easements. There is also something called a negative easement, which is a legal document that prohibits someone from using the property a certain way, such as building past a certain height or blocking a neighbor's view.
There is a long list of potential reasons an easement might be in place, and the details in your situation are valuable information you should carefully review during the escrow process.
When is an easement a problem?
In the vast majority of cases, an easement will not present a problem. Other than a minor nuisance or subtle diminishing of privacy, most easements make virtually no difference to the homeowner.
There are a few situations in which an easement might become a problem for a homeowner, usually in limiting changes they can make to the property. For example, if you discover that an easement on the property will prohibit you from digging a pool where you expected because it would violate the third party's ability to access the sewer line under your property, the easement may be a frustrating problem for you.
If you are planning any major changes, renovations, or creative uses for the property, share these with us during the home buying process so we can help you thoroughly explore whether an easement will limit your ability to carry out those plans.
Can an easement be removed?
Let's say you fall in love with a home, and then discover there is an easement on the property that will limit your ability to use it as you planned. Can you have the easement removed or revoked? Technically yes, but it isn't easy. The process of revoking or terminating an easement will require hiring a lawyer, and may or may not work out in your favor. This will depend on how long the easement has been in place, the type of easement it is, the third party's other options and willingness to make a new arrangment, and other unique factors.
Most of the time, the presence of an easement on a title is no reason to back out of the deal, but as always we advocate for having all the information before making a purchase.