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Owning Land

Land Laws: Tips for Navigating Easements

June 12, 2024

When buying land, the last thing anyone wants is to wind up with a property they’re unable to access or use as they intended. This is why understanding the ins and outs of easements is important for any landowner to ensure they aren’t met with any legal surprises or fees down the line.

During a recent episode of the National Land Podcast, Tiffany Lashmet, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist in Agricultural Law shared some useful tips for landowners to effectively navigate easements on their property and potentially save themselves some money later on. 

While much of the conversation focused on land laws in Texas, concepts here may apply to landowners in other states. However, these landowners should consult with a legal professional knowledgeable in their state’s laws to be absolutely sure of easement specifics in their state.

Here’s what to know!

Importance of Understanding Access

Understanding state laws regarding access is important when buying land to ensure that the property being purchased won’t become inaccessible to the new buyers when it changes hands. While some states have laws in place to prevent a property from becoming landlocked, this is not the case everywhere in the country. Lashmet explained this by stating, In Texas, people will say ‘Well, my property can’t be landlocked, right? Someone legally has to give me access.’ That is absolutely false in the state of Texas. Other states may have some mechanism where if you prove you’re landlocked, you’re automatically granted access, but that’s not the case here. It’s really important for people to understand you can have a landlocked property and that causes real problems on a number of fronts.”

Not only is it difficult to use a landlocked property, but selling one presents its own challenges due to difficulties in obtaining title insurance. Without title insurance, potential buyers won’t be able to get a loan to purchase the property and the owner will be unable to borrow against it. This is why when a property is divided or purchased, it’s very important to have any access easements written and recorded by a legal professional.

Do Your Research Before Making Any Agreements

As with any major decision in life, it’s best to do extensive research before signing any kind of easement agreement. Failing to research and lay out the terms of an easement properly could prove to be very costly for a landowner sometime in the future. Speaking to the importance of thorough research, Lashmet advised, “If you’ve got one of your neighbors to grant you an easement, get that surveyed and make sure you have the exact bounds of that recorded in the deed record…It’s wild to me that many people don’t want to pay $3,500 for a survey but they’re willing to pay $15,000 per mile to build a fence that might be in the wrong place.

We just had a case in the last couple of weeks in the Texas Supreme Court where a landowner was ordered to move a fence that was encroaching on the other guy’s property. So he paid money to build the fence, and now he’s going to pay money to move the fence. You know what’s cheaper than that? A survey.”

Keep an Eye on Your Property

Any landowner, especially those with large properties, should be aware of their state’s adverse possession laws to protect their land investment. Often referred to as “squatter’s rights,” adverse possession refers to legal mechanisms through which a person in possession of land owned by someone else can legally acquire a title and ownership by meeting certain conditions. Failing to notice an adverse possessor within the specified time period could mean a landowner would lose possession of those acres.

There are a variety of requirements that need to be met before adverse possession laws would go into effect, as Lashmet explained. She stated, “You have to meet all these other requirements. So even if you’ve been grazing your cattle there, that alone is not enough. But, if you’ve made some claim to that [land] where you’ve told people it’s yours, you’ve built your own fence or rebuilt/substantially improved or repaired the existing fence, those are facts that could certainly lend themselves to adverse possession. That’s a perfect example of why it’s important to pay attention to your property and look at what’s going on out there. If you let it keep continuing, you could be shoring up a claim and potentially lose those acres.”

What to Do When You Inherit/Purchase Property

While it may be easy to get caught up in the excitement of a new land purchase, there are a few things that every landowner should do as soon as possible when buying or inheriting a property. Updating all existing paperwork with local County and State entities can save landowners from costly and frustrating complications later on.

The County appraisal district is one of the first stops any new landowner should make according to Lashmet who stated, “Make sure that when you inherit or purchase land you go directly to the County appraisal district and have everything put in your name. In Texas, this is a really important step to take and fill out the paperwork to keep that open space or agricultural-use valuation on the property. It doesn’t automatically stay when ownership changes and I’ll get calls on this every year around the time that tax bills go out. 

You’ll want to do the same thing at your local USDA Office, that’s the Farm Service Agency, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, get everything in your name there as well. There may be programs you might qualify for, there may be programs your land is signed up for under someone else’s name. That’s just another palace you want to check anytime you inherit property.”

Consult a Legal Professional

The other main thing new landowners should do is meet with a legal professional if they need any new easements or other legal agreements drafted. A lawyer’s expertise will ensure that the agreement not only works for the landowner but also protects them against any kinds of changing circumstances the future may hold. 

Speaking to the importance of working with a lawyer, Lashmet stated, “I’d use a lawyer to draft something up, especially if you’re going to draft up an easement. It seems simple enough to just say, ‘Well I know my neighbor across the property,’ but what’s biting a lot of people right now is that they did very broad easements that didn’t have any limitations in them. That may have been fine for them when it was the neighbor who lived across the crossing, but now that neighbor has sold the property and subdivided into these ranchettes and there are 20 people behind them crossing the road. They never would’ve given permission for that and that’s why it’s worth using a lawyer to make sure these get drafted with limitations the way you need them to be.”

As stated above, many of the topics discussed by Lashmet during her podcast appearance dealt specifically with Texas land laws, so it’s best to get in contact with a legal professional in your area before acting on any of the information in this article.

If you’ve got more questions about land laws or your property, get in contact with your local Land Professional today!

About the Author
Bryce Berglund is National Land Realty’s Content Marketing Specialist. He is currently residing in Minnesota, where he attended the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Bryce is an appreciator of all things artistic, and likes to spend time at his cabin with his dog and family.