If your dream property sits along a secluded lake, is surrounded by wooded acres or lies behind the shopping mall that you wish to turn into the restaurant of your dreams, the fact that it’s landlocked may not necessarily be a deal-breaker. However, if the only way to reach your parcel is to cross another owner’s property, you must have permission from that neighbor to obtain road access. This is typically accomplished through the creation of an easement or the grant of personal permission.
Regardless of the type of access you need, it’s important that you understand that an easement is a legal right and can be sold or transferred just like any other form of real estate. In addition, the terms of your agreement will usually be recorded in public records.
There are three different kinds of access to a piece of property: public, undeeded and deeded. The easiest to obtain is public access, which means that the property touches a government maintained road. The other two categories can get a little more complicated. Undeeded access is the use of a trail or road across adjoining land that is not governed by a written agreement with adjacent property owners. This is the kind of access people have “always used” to reach their obtain road access to property and, in some cases, is the only way they can access it.
The most common form of road access is an easement, which is a legal right to travel over property you do not own. It can be as simple as your neighbors giving you the right to use a driveway that happens to run through their land, or they may grant you permission to build a road across their property that leads to yours. This can be especially valuable because a landlocked lot that becomes accessible by a public road often appreciates in value significantly.
To acquire an easement, start by getting a map of your neighbor’s property and yours. Figure out which parcels your property and the neighbors share. This will help you determine what easement terms are reasonable.
Depending on the terms of your easement, you should be able to record it with the local deed and land office. In some cases, you can even have it put on your land title, although this isn’t always possible. If your neighbor refuses to agree to an easement or asks for unreasonable compensation, you can file a lawsuit known as an “easement by necessity.” This is a court order that grants the landlocked owner legally entitled access to their own property.
If your neighbor is still uncooperative or asking for a significant amount of money, you can offer to purchase part of their property, enough to create a road, but this might require a lot line adjustment or subdividing the land. If you don’t feel comfortable negotiating with your neighbor personally, you can also enlist the help of a family member, friend or attorney.