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The most common types of easements you're likely to come across

If you haven’t come across the word “easement” before, it’s a real estate term that means someone’s right to access or use another person’s property. Many of us have easements on our property to allow for electric and plumbing companies to operate, while others might need one for more in-depth projects.

It’s important to look out for any easements on a perspective or current home to make sure you’re satisfied with how these agreements will affect your lifestyle and future home value.

What is an easement?

An easement is a written or verbal agreement between the owner of a piece of land and another entity, where the owner grants the entity rights or use of their property in one way or another. In some cases, the entity will provide monetary compensation or some service in exchange for the use of the owner's land. There are both voluntary and involuntary examples of easements.

For example, if person A owns their home, they will allow person B to use their land, or a piece of it, for a certain purpose. The most common uses of property easements are utilities. A plumbing company may have an easement on land to install pipes under the home. A telephone company or an electric company may have an easement on a piece of property to install needed poles and equipment.

Involuntary easements and easement by necessity

According to the NYC Bar, an involuntary easement, also known as a prescriptive easement, gives an entity the right to use another’s property while the owner keeps their title. Common prescriptive easements involve the right to travel across another’s property or the right to use someone’s property for drainage. An example would be if a neighbor cannot access their home without crossing your driveway. An example of an easement by necessity would be the need to access a body of water or the need for drainage on a piece of owned property.

Negative easements

A negative easement prevents something from happening or being built, rather than allowing access to another entity. An example of this could be if you are denied the rights to build a pool because it interferes with sewage, another neighbor’s property or if it would be structurally unsafe.

How to find out if there is an easement on a potential property

There are a few ways you can find out if there is an easement on a potential property. The first way is to ask the previous owners. This can be a quick solution, but it’s possible they don’t know the answer, or haven’t encountered an easement that you might in the future. To get a more confident answer you can contact utility companies, as well as visit your local land record office. They usually have a map of easements that could get you some answers.

What can an easement mean for you and your property?

An easement on your property could be something simple or it can be a bigger headache. Some easements may affect the curb appeal of your home or its value, like living near wind turbines or having large electrical poles on your property. An easement could also mean having a sewage or electricity company come into your backyard for a yearly checkup, which is standard. You could also have a neighbor who shares your driveway to access their home.

There are many ways an easement could affect your experience in a home. It may be low or high maintenance and is often something you don’t have control over. It’s important to stay in the know about easements so you’re prepared for what may come up in the future. 

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