Q: Marsha, I read your article on title insurance and you mentioned “easements.” I’m not clear what that term means. Would you explain what an easement is and how it affects title to a property?
A: Here is a quick overview of easements. If you need more information, please consult a real estate attorney. An easement is a claim on a property by a party other than the owner. The easement allows the holder to use land he doesn’t own or possess for a specific purpose.
Easements can take many forms. Utility easements are the most common. These easements allow the utility companies to come on private property for the sole purpose of servicing the utility. They are described in the property deed and stay with the property through parcel sales and transfers. Utility easements are non-intrusive, and homeowners can do whatever they wish with the land as long as it doesn’t interfere with the utility’s use of the easement.
Prescriptive easements are when the public or an individual acquires an easement over property by openly and continuously using private property for access. This often takes the form of a road, shortcut, or path. If the owner knows about the use and doesn’t prevent it, the easement may become legal by prescription.
Property owners have a right to access their homes. Sometimes when large parcels of land are sub-divided, landlocked properties are produced. An easement of necessity is created called an appurtenant easement. This grants the landlocked owner permission to drive over another owner’s parcel. The landlocked owner may only drive over the property and not abuse or burden the owner of the other property. Appurtenant easements stay with parcels through sales or transfers.
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How do you terminate an easement? Here is a hypothetical example condensed from many similar incidents: Rivera and Smith were close neighbors and great friends. Smith owned a home on Chapala Street, and Rivera lived behind him on De La Vina Street. Smith asked Rivera for permission to access the Chapala property with an easement on the De La Vina property. Rivera readily agreed and an easement was recorded allowing Smith to reach his Chapala Street home from an alley off De La Vina. The two parcels changed owners many times over the years, and the De La Vina easement stayed.
One owner of the De La Vina home wanted use of the land the easement sat on. He discovered that terminating an easement could be difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. When the Chapala home came on the market, the De La Vina Street owner purchased the property and was able to remove the easement. That’s one way to terminate an easement.
When you purchase a home, the title report will give you notice of all recorded easements on the parcel. Read your title report thoroughly and understand what you are purchasing.
Marsha Gray, DRE #012102130, NMLS#1982164, has been a real estate broker in Santa Barbara for more than 20 years. She works at Allyn & Associates, real estate services and lending. To read more Q&A articles, visit MarshaGraySBhomes.com. She will research and answer all questions submitted. Contact Marsha at (805) 252-7093 or MarshaGraySB@gmail.com.