An easement allows a company – utilities like the electric company or the telephone company, for example – to get onto your property and maintain the equipment they have installed there. These companies have easements where their lines actually run so that they can get onto your property in that area and do the work they need to do.
A right of way is similar in that it is between two parties and involves the use of land, but the agreement is usually between neighbors. In most cases, one neighbor wants to allow another neighbor access to a little piece of their property for a specific reason.
To get a right of way in place, we have to actually define what that piece of property actually is. That involves a surveyor, who will measure and tell us where this right of way area is and give us a description of the property. Describing the property and how it can be used allows us to properly set up the right of way and get it recorded in the land records. This ensures that down the road, the right of way is in place and someone can’t come along and block access.
Rights of way are most commonly used for access for vehicles. For example, if one neighbor’s property doesn’t abut a county- or state-maintained road, a right of way allows that neighbor to pass through another neighbor’s property to get to the road.
We worked on a case once where it wasn’t cars that needed to travel over the land but horses. The horse owner and her neighbor worked with a surveyor to define the area of the neighbor’s land that would be a right of way for the horses to travel. In this case, it was a piece of property that the land owner didn’t really use, so setting up a right of way was simple.
I’ve experienced this myself. A new home was built next door to us, and the electric company put their electric box on our property. We didn’t even know it was there! When the electric company realized what had happened, they knew they needed an easement for the box to remain in place. Moving the box would have been absurd.
Once the easement for the electric company was in place, my neighbor needed a right of way established so the box could be accessed and maintained. The right of way ensured that everyone knew which part of my property was involved and for what purpose my neighbor or the electric company could access it.
They say fences make good neighbors. I’d argue that rights of way make good neighbors, too. Rights of way are perpetual. That means they remain in place as the property changes hands. When we do a title search on a home you’re buying, any easements or rights of way present on the property will come up in our search. We’ll always let you know when we find these so that there are no surprises after you’ve gone to closing.
If a right of way is no longer needed. It can be extinguished. Like the original right of way, an extinguished right of way needs to be recoded in land records. This makes it public record that the right of way no longer exists.
It’s important to know what rights of way or easements are present on the property you’re buying, and we’re happy to explain what they mean to you. It’s one more way Foote Title Group insures your ownership!