If you're currently in the market to build or purchase a homestead in a rural area, you may want to learn a thing or two about easements. Easements are common in rural areas, where land owners may have large, expansive properties. If you already own a rural property, you may already understand certain easements and the way they affect property owners in your area. Easements can protect you and other parties when a piece of land must be shared by two individuals. However, as with most real estate concepts, it is best to be armed with knowledge in order to avoid costly mistakes or conflicts in the future. The following tips and information can help you navigate life as a homesteader and land owner.
What Is an Easement?
An easement is an agreement between two parties to share use of a property. The easement allows the property to remain under the possession of the property's owner, while allowing the second party to use the property for a specific purpose.
Imagine that two property owners share a common driveway. The driveway is primarily located on property A, but branches off onto property B after about 50 feet. The easement allows the owner of property B to use the portion of the driveway that crosses property A. This is a common scenario that happens often in rural areas, but can be found in cities as well.
Types of Easements
There are many types of easements. The type of easement used depends on who needs to use the property, and for what purpose.
Easement by Necessity
An easement by necessity occurs when accessing the property is unavoidable. The example of the driveways written above is an easement by necessity. In this case, the easement is made to protect the rights of the person who owns property B. The owner of property A is not allowed to deny the easement, because doing this would prevent the owner of Property B from accessing their home, and thus would infringe on their rights.
A public easement is an arrangement that allows the public to use pathways on a property. For example, if a public beach is inaccessible because it is blocked by private land, the public would be given the right to pass through that private land in order to reach the public beach.
These easements allow utility companies the right to access utility lines that run beneath or over individual properties. Utility easements also allow utility companies the right to access meters on the property in order to perform the regular meter reading.
A private easement is an agreement that is entered into when one party would like to access the property for convenience or for other reasons. Private easements often involve monetary compensation. Sometimes neighbors request a private easement to gain access to a public sewer, or to tap into another nearby utility line.
How Do Easements Affect Homesteaders?
When deciding whether to enter into an easement, homesteaders may have some important factors to consider. For example, many homesteaders have livestock on their property. In some cases, these animals may be allowed to roam loose on the property.
If the property is being accessed by other people on a regular basis, the interaction between people and animals could become a problem. Some farm animals can be a liability if they're not fully domesticated. If a person attempting to access another property is bitten or otherwise injured by the farm animal, this is obviously not ideal. The opposite problem could also arise. If the people accessing the property should cause injury or do damage to the animals on the property, this too could become a problem for the property owner. Those purchasing or building upon land with an easement may want to assess where things are located and if any additional barriers may be needed.
Farmland is another issue that many homesteaders must manage when establishing an easement. If the easement enables someone to access the property in an area where farmland is being grown, loss of crops could be the result.
In other words, an easements may require homesteader to make changes to their property to prevent problems. This may involve installing fences, clearing new land, and making similar arrangements.
Although an easement may require the property owner to make changes, there are some advantages to entering into an easement. If a neighbor is requesting the easement for convenience, entering into this type of agreement could create goodwill between neighbors. Some easements also include financial compensation, and others may not affect a homesteader's day-to-day life in any meaningful way. Then again, other easements may involve some kind of inconvenience for the property owner. Sometimes these inconveniences are temporary and short-lived. For example, if the easement involves putting pipes under the ground through the owner's property, the inconvenience will end when the pipes are in the ground. Unless the pipes need to be repaired or replaced, the person who owns the property need not deal with the problem.
Buying Land with an Easement? Consider the Following
If you're thinking about buying a property with an easement already in place, read the details of the agreement carefully.
Animals & Livestock
Do you keep animals on your property? How many and where? What can you do to prevent the animals and the easement from coming into conflict? Do the animals create safety concerns? Will the easement(s) pose a threat to these animals' well-being?
How will you prevent the easement from interfering with your food-growing activities? Will the easement reduce the usefulness of the land, and if so, will the land continue meet your needs?
Those who do not deal with this on a regular basis may be unable to understand the legal terms and jargon of a standard easement. Working with an expert can help. A legal professional can help read over the agreement and give advice to proceed. Even if a parcel of land does not currently have an easement, having an expert assess the likelihood of one developing in the future may also be worth the expense. Remember, there is a chance that you may benefit from some sort of easement as well, so do not forget to explore that possibility.
As I stated in my previous article, it is extremely important to understand what you intend to do with your new property—especially when you dream of living a self-sustaining lifestyle. Jumping into a deal too quickly may lead to unnecessary costs and heartache. With a little planning and due diligence, you'll get to the fun part of homesteading soon enough.
Ryan Tollefsen is the founder and team leader of Unity Home Group. As an avid supporter of sustainable living, he aims to help homesteaders navigate some of the lesser-known challenges of finding the right place to build roots for their homestead in his guide to assessing off-grid land. Read all of Ryan’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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