When property is purchased, buyers often make several assumptions. Buyers assume they will be able to use the property. Buyers also assume they can enter and exit the property. But, the rights to enter and exit the property may be separate from the ownership of the property. Ingress is defined as the right to enter the property and egress is defined as the right to exit the property. Others may also need or have a right to ingress or egress on your property. If proper care is not taken to understand and secure these rights, it could spell disaster for a commercial real estate transaction.
Ingress, Egress and Easements
The rights of ingress and egress are often secured by easements. An easement is a legal right to a limited use of another’s property. You may need an access easement to cross over someone else’s property to enter or exit your own property. You may need an easement on a private road that will allow you access to the property and ensure you can get to the main roads in the area. If there is a shared driveway, you may need an easement to allow you to use it.
Easements should be officially recorded, just as you would officially record the title to a property. Usually, you have the ability to sell an easement along with the deed to the property.
Others may have an easement on your property that gives them a right of ingress and egress as well. One typical example is the easement utility companies have on most properties. This easement allows them to enter a property to check meters and to repair or replace equipment essential to the working of the line. It is often not necessary for you to grant the easement to the utility company because in most jurisdictions the utility easement exists as a matter of law.
Special Issues of Landlocked Property
Some parcels of property are landlocked. They have no public access point. Landlocked parcels can be found anywhere. In a rural area where a large landowner is subdividing his or her land into smaller parcels, some of the parcels may be landlocked. In urban and suburban settings it is not uncommon to find a small store or other commercial enterprise surrounded by other businesses. The small store may be landlocked by its neighbors.
If a landlocked property does not already have an easement over adjacent property, you will need to secure an easement, or some other right of ingress and egress before buying the property. Otherwise you risk committing a civil trespassing offence every time you enter or leave your own property.
Landlocked commercial property in many jurisdictions does not come with an automatic access easement over neighboring properties. Lenders will require proof of the right of ingress and egress as part of the conditions of issuing a loan for the purchase of commercial real estate.
Neighboring landowners can sell an access easement. Sometimes neighboring landowners will want to limit the access an easement gives the landlocked property owner. However, easements are usually not a good way to strictly limit access. If limits are needed instead of giving an easement, the neighboring property owner should consider a different type of agreement.
How to Secure Ingress and Egress Without an Easement
Because under the law easements can both give to broad a right of access from the point of view of a neighbor and too narrow a right from the point of view of the easement holder, often other types of arrangements work better for securing the rights of ingress and egress.
Owners of landlocked parcels, or other difficult to access parcels, may wish for ingress and egress rights to be part of the deed, instead of as a separate easement. This provides several advantages to the owner of the limited-access property. It makes the process of documenting the rights easier. If the owner goes to sell the property later, having the rights explicitly in the deed will put the future buyer at ease. Having rights of ingress and egress spelled out, as part of the deed to property, is easiest to achieve when buying the access-limited parcel from the landowner who also owns the neighboring property you will have to cross to get to your property.
Sometimes a property owner will want a land use agreement. A land use agreement is a contract that spells out specific duties and responsibilities between the two sides. Land use agreements should be recorded with the county, just as an easement is recorded. A land use agreement gives the parties great flexibility in determining just how much access will be granted. A land use agreement can limit the tonnage of trucks that can cross the neighboring property, or whatever limits the two sides agree to. A land use agreement will also usually explicitly state what the limited-access property owner must pay for the upkeep of any roads.
Ingress, Egress, and Due Diligence
Verifying the ingress and egress rights is an essential part of the due diligence process when purchasing property. Even when access seems obvious, the source of the ingress and egress rights needs to be tracked down. Not only may a lender require such assurances, but it also helps avoid later legal trouble.
Part of the title search process should include documenting the ingress and egress rights. Such rights should be on the deed, in the form of a recorded easement, or land use agreement. If a title search cannot find a recorded document establishing the ingress and egress rights, the seller will need to demonstrate that he or she has those rights and then explicitly convey them to the buyer as part of the transaction.
These steps may be needed, even if the property is not landlocked. If the public access point is remote to the part of the property that is or is going to be developed, or certain weather conditions make the public access point impassable certain seasons, it is prudent to have easement or a land use agreement with a neighbor that provides more reliable and practical access to the property.
The rights of ingress and egress are essential to the full use of any property. In this article we talked about ingress, egress, and easements in depth, as well as alternatives to easements. Ensuring that you understand both what rights you have with respect to your neighbor’s property as well as what rights others have with respect to your property is a key part of the due diligence process.