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An Introduction to Easements

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  • An Introduction to Easements

    Easements are the right to use a piece of land without granting ownership. Although sometimes they may significantly affect the value of the land, in many cases easements are simply a fact of life, and there are many types of easements that you may not even know about even though you live with them every day.

    The right to use the land, when conferred by an easement rather than outright ownership, is limited to a particular purpose or type of use. It is considered an interest in the land, but it does not allow the owner of the easement to do anything they like with the property. They cannot occupy the land, but can only use it for the purposes detailed in the easement itself.

    An example of an easement is the ability of the owner of a piece of land not bordered by any roads to cross another's land to reach the road. This is called a right of way easement. Easements are also commonly granted to utility companies to run various lines across the land. Some may affect where you can place fences or other structures on the land. Another type of easement, for historic districts, may restrict what types of changes you may make to the historic building, such as structural additions or even paint colors. Others, called recreation easements, allow the public to use undeveloped land for biking, hiking, hunting, fishing, or other recreational uses. In some states, there are tax incentives for such easements.

    Legally speaking, there are two types of easements, called easements appurtenant and easements in gross. An easement appurtenant goes with the land, and if the land is sold, the easement will continue to the new owner. Similarly, if the land served by the easement is sold, the new owner of that parcel will also gain the easement. The owner of an easement appurtenant must own a parcel of land that is affected by having the easement, generally a piece of property adjacent to or near the one concerned in the easement. Meanwhile, an easement in gross is a right that belongs to a particular person or entity, not to a piece of property. This type of easement can be granted to someone who does not own an adjacent piece of land.

    If you are buying a piece of land, a land survey can let you know if there are any easements associated with the property. You may also wish to have a land survey completed if someone is asking for an easement on land that you own, so that you can be sure exactly what the easement entails. Existing easements should also be found through a title survey.

    It's important to find out about easements before you buy land because they can affect the value of the land, and they may also be inconvenient, depending on the nature of the easement. However, in most cases you should not abandon a possible land purchase simply because there is an easement. Before agreeing to purchase a property with easements, consider whether it will affect your use of the property or future resale values.

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