Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Q: We are having a problem with a neighbor who has an easement across our property.

He believes that we can’t use “his” road, and that he owns it. He also is upset because he says we aren’t taking good care of the road. What can you tell us about easements?
A:
I’m amazed at how often I get questions about road easements. They are not well understood. You should ask an attorney to review the easement itself just to be sure that there are no unusual features to it. However, here is an answer based on my experience and those easements I’ve dealt with:
The property is yours. You own it, and pay taxes on it. An egress (exit) and ingress (enter) easement just gives someone else permission to cross your land to get to their property, nothing more. Because it’s your property, you can use the road for your own purposes. The maintenance of the road is totally the responsibility of the person benefiting from the easement, unless you have some sort of maintenance agreement.
Another issue I’ve heard about from time to time is the question concerning whether the person using the easement can grant permission to another property owner to use it. Unless there is specific language to the contrary, most easements can’t be passed on to others. They apply only to that single property.
I would start with a letter to your neighbor outlining your rights and his. Include a copy of the easement, which you can find in your title policy. If you want to make this a pleasant relationship, then you might agree to help maintain the road, especially if you are using it. That would be a fair way to handle it.
Again, check with an attorney to be sure that it’s a standard easement with no unusual clauses.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Q: I am really furious with my neighbors.

They put their house on the market and never told me they were going to sell. Years ago we talked about the fact that my daughter and son-in-law loved their house and would like to buy it. They told me that if they were ever thinking of selling, they would let me know first. Do I have any recourse?
A:
Unless you have a written agreement with your neighbors giving you the right of first refusal or right to purchase, you probably have no recourse.
It's very hard to hold someone to an unwritten agreement, although it has been done throught the courts if there is overwhelming evidence of some kind of intent. You would have to check with an attorney for a more detailed explanation. A conversation years ago probably doesn't qualify. They may have even forgotten it completely.
It's very common for people to say, "Oh, I just love your house. Let me know if you ever want to sell it because I would sure be interested." I hear this so often that I would call it "just being polite." Your neighbors may have heard that from several people over the years, so they didn't take it seriously.
I also find it's true that most of the people who express an interest would not seriously want to buy it, or can't afford, or aren't in a position to buy it when it becomes available. So, without a real commitment in the form of a letter or contract, I don't expect you can hold them to anything.
This is a good time to encourage everyone to try to work out some contractual arrangement on property that seriously interests you. It can be recorded on the deed to the property, which means that your interest must be addressed before anyone else can buy it. In most cases, keep in mind that you will have to be willing to pay market price for the property.