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How do property easements factor in a real estate sale?

Easements are necessary components of some real estate titles. These allow non-owners right-of-way access to private property.

When purchasing a home, land or other type of private property, residents of Pennsylvania and elsewhere may not realize that there could be a clause in the title that allows utilities or the public to use a portion of their property. In other cases, the buyer might need to regularly use a part of an adjacent neighbor's property in order to reach his or her own land. This situation is known as an easement. Often, the presence of an easement goes unnoticed and does not provide any difficulties for property owners or their neighbors. Sometimes, however, it is necessary to seek legal counsel for situations involving easements.

What is an easement?

It is necessary to understand exactly how an easement clause operates. This legality allows non-owners access to private land, usually when this access is necessary for utility or transportation purposes. The Local Government Commission of the Pennsylvania General Assembly points out that usually, an easement has been in a property title for a lengthy period of time and is considered to be permanent, or it is a necessary right-of-way term to allow people access to a public highway.

Many properties, especially those in rural areas, are landlocked. This means that the land is surrounded by other parcels of private property, and inaccessible to an outside roadway without encroaching on a neighbor's property. It may be necessary to construct a driveway or small path on neighboring land for the landlocked property owner to be able to access his or her home. Often, this type of road has already been constructed and has long been a part of the title.

In other situations, states Zillow, there may be buried gas lines, water mains and other utility structures on private property. If these utilities are located on the side of a person's property or in the backyard, workers might need to go on the land without permission to work on them. For example, it would be crucial to repair a broken gas line. If the breach is in the backyard and the property owner is not home, it would not make sense for emergency workers to wait until they can reach the owner and get permission to repair the line. The same can be said for neighborhood electrical boxes that are often located in the front yard of one home on the street. Electrical personnel will occasionally need to step foot onto the property, and sometimes conduct excavations or other work, to update, maintain or repair the utility.

Gaining right-of-way when there is previously no easement

There may be complications for those who purchase land-locked property and find there is no roadway offering access to a public road and no easement with neighboring property. In this case, it might be necessary to gain permission from a neighbor to construct a road or to use a portion of their driveway to make access to the land-locked property possible. Often, but not always, homeowners are willing to make accommodations to help their neighbors.

Title law may be complex, particularly when it involves disputing right-of-way or gaining clarification on what is required to maintain an existing easement. It may be necessary to speak with an experienced Pennsylvania real estate attorney on the matter.