Easements Real Estate

The Impact of Easements: What to Know Before Buying Your Neighbor’s Land

At first glance, purchasing property from a neighbor might appear to be a straightforward real estate transaction. However, if that land is subject to one or more easements, the deal can become much more complicated. Easement is a broad term to describe various nonpossessory interests in real property. Easements can grant specific third parties certain rights to access or use portions of a property, even though another entity holds the legal title. Easements can also prevent the holder of legal title from taking otherwise permissible actions on their property. Some easements are readily apparent while others may be revealed by a professional title search or a survey. These rights create restrictions and limitations that can significantly impact the utilization and value of the land for a buyer.

How Easements Work and Can Impact Real Estate Transactions in Alabama

Some easements under Alabama law grant the easement holder limited rights to make use of or access someone else’s land for a stated purpose, even though they do not hold formal title to the property. In the case of appurtenant easements, the property benefiting from the easement is known as the dominant estate, while the property burdened by the easement is the servient estate. Such easements are attached to the land, not individual owners, so and can remain active and binding when the title to the servient estate transfers to new owners.

In Alabama real estate deals, easements can significantly shape a buyer’s property rights and uses in ways that may not be obvious at first, including:

  • Limiting Uses – Easements often prohibit certain uses on parts of the land, such as building structures, depending on the specific rights granted in the easement terms. Uses may be narrowly restricted.
  • Allowing Access – Utility easements commonly give utility companies open-ended access to maintain infrastructure like power lines, reducing privacy and exclusive use for the owner.
  • Transferring Automatically – Unlike other real property interests, some easements are attached to and travel with the property when the title transfers to a new owner even if the new owner does not explicitly agree to the easement.
  • Reducing Property Value – By restricting uses and access, easements inherently reduce the fair market value that a property can command.
  • Complicating Title – Easements cloud the legal title and must be identified and evaluated during the title search process, adding time and expense.
  • Creating Shared Control – The easement holder and servient owner must cooperate and coordinate uses under the easement terms to avoid disputes.

Without fully researching and understanding whether any easements exist on a property being sold, Alabama real estate buyers risk purchasing land with limited rights, reduced value, and complicated legal obligations that can be challenging to unwind after purchase. Obtaining qualified real estate counsel is critical when easements are involved.

Common Easement Situations in Alabama Real Estate Transactions

Alabama property law recognizes a variety of easement types that real estate buyers will frequently encounter when seeking to purchase a property. Being aware of the most common easements can help buyers identify and assess them during the acquisition process.

Utility Easements

These easements allow utility providers access to install, maintain, repair, and replace key infrastructure like power, water, sewer, and gas lines on private property. They are often broad and restrictive to property uses.

Right-of-Way Easements

These easements grant access to other properties by allowing passage across the burdened land. They limit fencing, structures, trees, and other uses along their defined path.

Conservation Easements

These easements aim to preserve land in its natural state through use restrictions. They require working with a qualified land trust and limiting commercial uses, development rights, and high-impact activities.

View Easements

These ensure a property maintains views of specific scenery, restricting structures or landscaping that would obstruct the protected sight lines on the burdened estate.

Limitations and Obligations Imposed by Common Easements

While easements aim to expand rights for the dominant estate, they inherently create limitations, obligations, and loss of exclusivity for the servient estate owner. Buyers should be aware of common limitations before purchasing an Alabama property subject to easements:

  • Use Restrictions – Easements often restrict building, planting foliage, fencing, accessory structures, and other uses on parts of the land depending on the terms.
  • Access Intrusions – Utility and other easements allow third-party access at reasonable times, reducing privacy and exclusive use for the owner.
  • Maintenance Obligations – Servient owners may have to bear costs related to maintaining easement areas.
  • Title Issues – Easements cloud the property title and must be addressed before re-selling.
  • Value Impacts – By limiting uses and complicating title, easements can significantly reduce appraised fair market values.
  • Shared Control – The servient owner must coordinate with the easement holder to use the property subject to the easement terms.
  • Violation Exposure – Servient owners can be sued by easement holders if they violate or interfere with easement rights.

Evaluating Easements on a Neighbor’s Land Before Purchase

When considering purchasing a neighbor’s land burdened by one or more easements, Alabama real estate buyers should take key steps to evaluate the easement restrictions:

  • Review Title – Examine the preliminary title report to identify any recorded easements attached to the property.
  • Obtain Easement Terms – Secure copies of the full recorded legal instruments governing every reported easement to understand the rights granted.
  • Consult an Attorney – Have a real estate lawyer review and explain the easement terms and their specific implications for property use and value.
  • Inspect the Property – Walk the property with the attorney to physically observe the easement areas and potential impact.
  • Assess Options – Consider options to potentially challenge, dissolve, or work around problematic easements before the purchase.
  • Adjust Offer Accordingly – Account for any diminished property value, limitations on use, and obligations created by the easements.

Being proactive in assessing easements before acquiring a property is vital to making informed purchase decisions and avoiding pitfalls as a buyer in Alabama.

Handling Easements When Finalizing an Alabama Property Purchase

To finalize the purchase of an Alabama property burdened by easements in an optimal manner, buyers and their real estate attorneys can:

  • Disclose Easements – Ensure every recorded easement is properly disclosed to the buyer in the purchase contract and closing documents.
  • Address Title Issues – Clear any title clouds created by the easements to successfully transfer clean title.
  • Record New Easements – If needed, draft and record any new easement agreements between the buyer and neighbor.
  • Review Restrictions – Explain all easement restrictions in detail to the buyer before closing so there is a clear understanding.
  • Assess Zoning – Check whether any intended property uses could be prohibited under applicable zoning rules.
  • Evaluate Alternatives – If needed, discuss options to potentially challenge or extinguish highly unfavorable easements after closing.

Contact Stone Crosby for Legal Help with Easements in Alabama

While neighborly Alabama real estate transactions may appear straightforward initially, underlying easements can impose major limitations on property use and value for buyers if not properly identified and addressed. Assessing easements attached to the land before purchase with competent legal guidance is key to making informed investment decisions and avoiding pitfalls.

If you need legal guidance with a real estate transaction in Alabama that involves easements, Stone Crosby is here to help. Message us online or call us today at (251) 626-6696 to schedule a consultation.