Understanding An Easement

When a landowner enters into an easement agreement and gives up some of the rights to his/her land, the documentation can be confusing and filled with difficult-to-understand legalese. To help cut through some of the confusion, here are with some basic tips for understanding and evaluating an easement.

  • Easements are also called right-of-ways. In a very basic sense, if a neighbor wants to move his/her cattle from two points on his/her property but needs to cross your property boundary to do so, you can legally allow him/her use of your property by granting an easement. He/she has the right of way to move his/her cattle through your land.
  • These agreements can be temporary or permanent. Landowners can also specify what type of use is permitted and request prior notice before any activities take place on the property.
  • Easements may be standard or comprehensive. Every landowner who agrees to an easement should thoroughly review the contents prior to signing any legally binding agreement.

There are 3 classes of easements:

  • Subsurface – These cover the installation of gas or other pipelines. They include any work that is significantly below the surface of the land.
  • Surface – These may cover the installation of fencing, roadways or drainage changes that directly change the surface of the land.
  • Overhead – These easements cover the air up to a certain point specified in the agreement. Hunting, communications, other towers and poles or line work may be included in these forms of agreements.
  • The value of the easement estimates the value of the property before and after the easement has been constructed or completed. The value of the easement will become the difference between the before and after assessments, though sometimes acquisitions, pricing and other information may change the valuation. If an easement affects the valuation of the land in a meaningful way, the property owner may be entitled to compensation for that difference, particularly if he or she is going to sell the property.

While you do not have to acquire legal representation to negotiate or review an easement agreement, it is highly suggested. An attorney who understands land management and oil/gas laws, etc. will be able to help a property owner ask the questions that need to be answered prior to making the agreement.

Property owners should always understand the following information before signing an easement agreement:

  • The exact proposed use of the land and any limits on its use
  • The geographical confines of the agreement
  • The responsibility of maintenance after construction, if there is a construction aspect
  • Landowner rights during the term of the easement
  • The responsibility for taxes and other obligations for the land under easement
  • The projected impact the easement will have on the overall value of the property
  • Any benefits conferred to the property owner during the course of the easement

Every property under an easement agreement will be slightly different. The valuation and contents of the agreement should be personalized and clear for every party involved. If you, as a landowner, have a question regarding an easement, consult an attorney to clarify any information that you do not understand and to better understand the local laws regarding easements in your area.

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