Land Disputes and Other Land Laws

Read these tips regarding land disputes and other land laws.

| June/July 1998

  • 168-028-01a
    Land disputes are the source of many road blocks.

  • 168-028-01a

Q: In 1972, my wife and her late husband purchased 3,800 acres in a western state. For many years, the only access to the east side was an old road off of a county road that the original homesteader used. An aerial photo taken in 1952 shows the road well within the fence line for about a half mile to the homestead. My wife's family used this road for many years to access the property for hunting and fishing and other recreation. Even after they moved out of state, they returned from time to time. The only other access was the long way around or through a section of state land, if the old jeep trails through it were even passable. During the mid '70s, the adjacent land was developed into a subdivision of approximately ten-acre parcels. This sub division engulfed the old road. The family continued to use the road up until 1991. During her late husbands illness, my wife sold much of the property but held on to part of it.  

When we married, my wife and I moved to the township sixteen miles away to begin building on the property. Everything was fine for a while. Then we moved a fifth wheel onto the property, and also a 10' by 50' mobile office. We were blockaded at the subdivision entrance by two members of the subdivision home-owners association. I couldn't reason with them, and my son had to get the sheriff. The sheriff escorted us to the property gate, approximately three miles, and stated that we had legal access to our land.  

Shortly thereafter, we had to go to California to help our daughter after an earthquake and were gone for over year. In the meantime, the ten acres at our entry gate was purchased, and the owner sealed the gate with wire and dumped a pile of dirt in the road on his side of the fence. He then sent my son a letter telling him to stay of the ten acres or go to court. My son is not the legal owner, so he passed the letter on to me. We returned to reason with the association to no avail. We even offered to pay our share of the road maintenance.  As a result of limited finances, we refrained from legal counsel, and since we were essentially land-locked, they wouldn't even let us remove the RV and trailer. They are sitting there deteriorating to this day.  Meanwhile, the portion of land my wife sold was turned into a subdivision. The road building was difficult and the developer finally abandoned the project. During this time, a legal easement and road was created to our west entrance. It is ten miles farther and only accessible in dry weather we haven't been able to build on our land because cement trucks and propane trucks refuse to use the new road. We desire to be a good neighbor.  

Can you help?  

—R. A.
Name and address withheld

A: Easements are the boon and bane of many country property owners! It sounds as if you originally had an easement by prescription to the land: that is, an access route that was used for so long that access could not be denied. Such an easement does not usually have to be used on a daily basis, only used consistently according to the type of land. For example, if the land was used for recreational purposes, then sporadic use of the easement was enough to maintain rights of access. But in many states when you cease using this type of easement, you may be in danger of losing it.  

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