Accessing landlocked property when the previous owner didn’t record an easement

by | Oct 19, 2021 | Real Estate |

Whether as part of your investment portfolio or to build a house on, you may have recently purchased a plot of land. As sometimes happens, you may have realized that there is no public highway or road abutting your land, and that your only access to the property is on a road that passes through neighboring plots. What are your options?

How the problem occurs

Landlocked parcels most often occur when one person used to own a large tract of land that they subdivided to sell as multiple plots. Sometimes, when people subdivide their land, they fail to ensure that each subdivided plot has access to a public road, and their once-private road crosses multiple plots.

The idea of depending on a road that someone else controls could make you nervous, and with good reason. Even if the person who sold you the property used the road, you may desire a more substantial legal certainty that your access won’t be cut off in the future.

How to fix the problem

If you continue to use the existing road, you can eventually gain a prescriptive easement. This is when you gain an easement through continuous and uninterrupted use for a certain time limit. In California, you can get a prescriptive easement after five years.

However, if you don’t want to wait five years to have a legal document in hand that protects your access to the road, you can go through the process of obtaining a different type of easement.

The easiest way to obtain the required easement is to talk to the owners of the neighboring properties. Your attorney can draw up a document that secures your right to use the road, and you can ask your neighbors to sign it. You may have to pay your neighbors a modest fee for their trouble.

If your neighbors are unwilling to grant you an easement, and you have no other recourses, you may have to resort to the court system. A court can grant you an easement by necessity if you can prove that there is no other way to access your land.

The laws of California encourage the productive use of land, and thus it’s unlikely that you will end up with a landlocked plot that you can’t reach. Either through private negotiations or through legal action, you can obtain the legal right to use a road to access your plot.

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