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Litigation Blog.
The seasoned lawyers and litigators at The Rubinstein Law Firm are here to share their insights with you.

An unpleasant surprise: Beware of an easement when buying land

If you have bought or considered buying property, be it a home purchase or commercial development deal, you know how exciting the prospect can be. Once the deal is done, that land is yours to do whatever you like with.

Imagine, however, you then get some troubling news. A nearby property owner can traipse through your backyard whenever they want in order to reach another piece of land nearby. Or a local utility company has the right to enter the property to do work on power lines as needed. The property becomes a little less desirable, all because of something called an easement.

Easements: An overview

An easement, at its most basic, is legal permission for another party to utilize another’s private property. There can be many reasons for this. For example, Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources grants easements for certain companies to work on telephone lines, pipelines and other utilities that are on state land.

Private residential or commercial property may also have an easement.

If there are two adjacent properties, and the owner of one can not access a road without going through the other, there may be an easement granting permission. Or there may be an easement if there is otherwise inaccessible land that can only be reached by going through private property.

Two basic types of easements

Broadly speaking, there are two types of easements. These types may affect whether the easement continues to exist when the property has a new owner.

An easement appurtenant is essentially tied to the property itself and provides a benefit to one property owner (the dominant tenement) while intruding on another’s property (the servient tenement). When either property comes under a new owner, the easement will continue to exist. If you were to buy a piece of land and discover there is an easement appurtenant allowing a neighbor to drive through it every day, you couldn’t simply put up a fence or demand they stop.

The other type is an easement in gross. This type of easement is instead considered personal to whoever holds the easement. It is the privilege of one party to use the land, and that party can not simply transfer it.

If you’re considering purchasing property, you can see why it’s important to know if there are any easements on the land. Finding these easements is not always easy, however. One that applies to underground work, such as wiring, may not be immediately obvious – until the company comes to dig a hole on your land.

Tracking down easements is one of the ways an attorney can help with a real estate deal. Buying a property is a big decision. You should know everything about it before making that commitment. To do your due diligence, however, sometimes takes a little additional help. But it’s often better to be safe than sorry.