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You’ve been shopping for vacant land and found a parcel you love – but there’s one problem. The property is landlocked.
Landlocked property doesn’t have direct access to a public road and is only accessible by crossing another property.
While landlocked real estate can be an exciting investment opportunity, it may involve legal risks because you’ll need an easement to gain legal access to the property. Don’t take a gamble when you can be an informed buyer. Before you lock yourself into a deal, review the pros and cons of purchasing a landlocked property, including how easements work and how to get one.
What Is Landlocked Property?
Landlocked property is a property surrounded by one or more other properties that has no direct access to a public road.
Landlocked property is typically created when larger parcels are divided and sold, creating interior parcels that don’t have direct access to a public road. This can happen in remote rural areas where a ranch or other large piece of land is subdivided or when a commercial complex is built. Depending on the property, the scenarios can be complex.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Buying Landlocked Property?
Landlocked properties have both advantages and disadvantages for a buyer.
Advantages of landlocked property
- Lower price: You may be able to negotiate a lower price for the land because it’s landlocked.
- Desirable setting: Landlocked properties can be located in unconventional or desirable settings such as forests or the edge of a mountain.
Disadvantages of landlocked property
- Limited access: The main downside is the difficulty you’ll have getting to the property. Do you have to fly in with a helicopter, pick up a paddle and canoe or traipse through a neighbor’s property?
- Legal negotiations: In the least-complicated scenario, you’ll have legal documents drafted, and you’ll likely compensate your neighbor to gain access to your property. But gaining access can be difficult and may involve a long legal battle.
- Lending challenges: Because it could be difficult for emergency services, like firefighters and ambulances, to access the property, some lenders may be less willing to finance a loan for the land.
Who Has Right of Way and How Is It Different From an Easement?
A right of way and an easement have similarities, but they aren’t the same. A right of way is generally a route available for public use, such as a road or walkway that allows anyone to travel through a portion of private property.
Typically, an easement only allows use by specific people or groups, such as an adjacent landowner or a utility company.
What Is an Easement?
An easement is a legal right to use a portion of someone else’s property for a specific use. An easement through one or more adjacent parcels can provide a landlocked property with public road access. For example, you could get an easement to build a driveway across your neighbor’s property to access your landlocked property.
An easement can give you the right and ability to access your land. However, your neighbor would still own the land.
Here are some common examples of easements:
A property owner grants an express easement in writing through a deed or other document. But there can still be disputes even if an express easement exists. Requirements for express easements vary by state.
Easement by implication
An easement by implication occurs when specific facts relating to a parcel of land imply the existence of an easement. In other words, the easement is obvious. For instance, if one piece of the property has a driveway on it that accesses another piece of land, there is an easement by implication.
Easement by necessity
An easement by necessity is usually created when the only way to access a property is by crossing an adjoining property.
Some states only recognize an easement by necessity if there is absolutely no other way to access a property. Other states only require practical necessity. For example, when the only other option would be the expensive and potentially dangerous construction of a road across rocky, mountainous land.
Easement by prescription or prior use
Easements can also be created by prescription or prior use.
Easement by prescription is when someone has been using a portion of someone else’s property for years without the owner’s objection – or permission. An easement by prior use is similar to an easement by prescription (also known as a prescriptive easement), but it’s assumed that the property owner permitted the use of their property.
Requirements for an easement by prescription or easement by prior use vary by state. But, in general, the person seeking the easement needs to prove:
- Open and notorious use (the person using the other owner’s property did so openly)
- Continuous use for an amount of time set by state law (usually at least 5 years)
- The person seeking the easement and the owner of the property didn’t change during the amount of time set by state law
Steps To Take Before Buying a Landlocked Property
Landlocked properties can provide a unique real estate investment opportunity. Taking the proper steps can help you protect your rights and get the most out of your purchase. You’ll want to increase the likelihood that you can obtain reasonable legal access to the property without undue costs or court battles.
Here are the main steps you’ll need to take:
Survey the land
The first step is researching the property. Property records can offer information on whether an express or other recorded easement already exists. Maps and surveys can provide information on the best potential options for accessing the property from a public road.
Get an attorney
Purchasing landlocked property and ensuring that you have rights to an easement is much more complicated than a traditional home purchase. Diligent research may not safeguard you from the various pitfalls of a landlocked property purchase. Even an experienced buyer may be unaware of the legal nuances, and the adjoining property owners may not be agreeable.
An experienced real estate attorney can advise you about local laws, possible problems and legal requirements. Working with a lawyer can also ensure that an easement is negotiated and recorded in a way that is likely to avoid problems in the future.
Contact the property owner
Once you’ve done your research and gotten legal advice, you’ll need to contact the owner of the property where you need the easement. Be aware that, even if the need for an easement is obvious, the property owner may not agree to an easement.
Be friendly and polite and offer to look for a mutually agreeable solution. Your real estate lawyer may have advice about what you should or shouldn’t say to the adjoining property owner. If the owner is particularly hostile or there’s a history of failed easement negotiations, you may want to have your attorney do all the talking with the property owner.
Negotiate an offer
After contacting the property owner, you’ll need to negotiate to get access to the landlocked property. Be realistic and recognize that the property owner may expect compensation to grant an easement.
All parties can benefit from reaching an agreement. And reaching an agreement outside of court is probably preferable. If an easement is essential to legally access a piece of real estate, a court will likely grant one eventually, but litigation can be stressful and expensive for everyone involved.
File documents and seal the deal
If you reach an agreement, make sure the deal is in writing and legally recorded. Some jurisdictions require particular language to establish an easement. Documents may need to be recorded with a deed, and you’ll probably need to file something with the county where the properties are located.
Easement descriptions that are confusing or vague can lead to legal disputes, so you’ll want to make sure this step is done correctly. Getting a lawyer to draft and file the necessary documents may help you avoid legal headaches in the future.
Don’t Get Locked Out
Landlocked property can be a good investment opportunity but carries the risk of costly legal disputes. Obtaining legal advice and understanding your rights can help you avoid having to fight for legal access to your land.
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The Short Version
- Landlocked property doesn't have direct access to a public road and is only accessible by crossing another property
- An easement through one or more adjacent parcels can provide a landlocked property with public road access
- Landlocked property can be a good investment opportunity but carries the risk of costly legal disputes