The offer you made for a beautiful new home was accepted. And you were excited about becoming a first-time homeowner, that is at least, until the title search was completed. The title search revealed an easement giving your neighbors the right to use your driveway to access the main road.
How is that legal? How can someone else have a right to use your private property without your permission? It happens often in real estate when a previous owner sells property that has an easement. If you have questions about an easement on your Catonsville MD property, speak with your real estate agent.
What is an Easement?
An easement gives someone else the legal right to use another person’s private property. As long as the property is used for the specified purpose, the easement is legally binding.
For example, your local water company could have an easement allowing them to install water pipes underneath your property. Although you are the legal property owner, the water company has the right to put their pipes there.
Easements are usually mentioned in the title papers or property deeds provided by title insurance companies or attorneys.
Revoking Access is Not Allowed
When a property owner agrees to an easement, the easement remains even after a new buyer takes ownership of the property. As the new owner, you’re obligated to honor the easement – even if you object to the situation. You also need to know the specifics of the type of easement you’re dealing with.
– An “in-gross” easement applies to a particular person. For example, perhaps the previous owner gave their neighbor permission to hunt on the land. When you buy the property, you’re entitled to honor that agreement. But the neighbor can’t pass or sell the easement to anyone else. If that neighbor moves away, you’re not obligated to let the new property owner use your land.
– An “appurtenant” easement is attached to the land. No matter who owns the land, the easement transfers to the new owner.
Understanding Easement Types
In addition to the type of agreement attached to an easement, there are also different types of easements. Here are some of the most common:
1. Right of Way
A right of way easement gives someone – usually a neighbor – the right to cross your property to access a specific area. For example, a neighbor might have the right to use your driveway to access a lake or main road.
A right of way easement can also apply in situations where property is shared. For example, two pieces of property might share a driveway.
The majority of the driveway sits on one side of the property, put some of it also sits on the second property. The owner of the second property can get an easement that allows them to also use the driveway, but the owner of the first property actually owns the driveway.
You will likely encounter this type of easement if you live in a condo, co-op, or home managed by a homeowner’s association.
2. Utility Company
An easement with a utility company is common. Utility companies always need space for pipes, wiring, and various equipment.
If your property has a utility easement, it generally won’t interfere with your daily activities. It’s not like a right of way easement, in which a neighbor (or neighbors) will regularly move around on your property.
For example, your local cable company might have cable lines buried underneath your property. You can build on the property, plant a garden, and do whatever you want – as long as you don’t prevent the cable company from using their easement.
If there is a utility easement on your property, you can learn the exact location by contacting the utility company. You can also contact the local city hall or the county land records for your property. Either location should have a map showing the location of the easement.
A private easement is when a property owner gives an easement to a specific person. For example, a neighbor building a new house might need to access the sewer. A sewer easement would grant the neighbor the right to access sewer lines (or to place sewer lines) on your property. If you discover your property has a private easement, get a copy of the actual agreement. You need to know the details of the easement, who has a right to use your property, and what uses does the easement allow. If you unknowingly interfere with the easement rights, you could find yourself facing a lawsuit or being held liable for damages. If the information isn’t readily available following your title search, contact your local county clerk. A public record of the easement should exist.
A legal easement isn’t always in writing. If the easement is a necessity, then having it in writing isn’t a requirement. However, the easement must have a legitimate reason to exist.
For example, the law says that a person has the right to access their own home. If a person needs to cross your property in order to reach their home, then the law recognizes that as a necessary easement.
In this case, getting the easement in writing isn’t required. But the easement is legally binding, and you must allow access to your property.
Avoiding an Easement
It’s possible that you’re fine with someone accessing part of your property. But you might not want that person to have a legal right of access. In this situation, you can give the person written permission. This avoids the need for an easement, and prevents anyone who moves in later from claiming they have a right to access your property.
Disputes Over an Easement
An easement is granted when the property owner agrees to the request. But what happens when a new property owner takes over? Can the new property owner cancel the easement?
The short answer is no. You, as the new property owner, can’t simply refuse to honor the easement. Refusing to honor the easement can land you in serious trouble with the law. However, you can possibly get an easement legally terminated.
The court must rule that the easement is unreasonable. And that it significantly interferes with the property owner’s life.
For example, perhaps there’s an easement on your property that gives neighbors shortcut access to a local park. But a new apartment complex is built in the neighborhood, and the crowds are much larger than anticipated. The crowds are littering, trampling over your land, and causing noise disturbances.
In the above scenario, you can contest the easement in court. If the court agrees with your complaint, the easement might become null and void.
Asking for Legal Assistance
If you’re concerned about an easement on your property in Catonsville MD, speak with your real estate agent. However, there’s not much you can do if there’s a legal easement. If you find yourself in an easement dispute with a neighbor, your best course of action is to call a real estate attorney.
Easement laws vary by state. You’ll need legal assistance to understand the laws in your state. You’ll especially need legal assistance if the easement isn’t in writing.