Although moving to the country can create a newfound sense of freedom, rural homebuyers may be caught off-guard by the legal limitations of their property rights. That’s why it’s important for your clients to understand the extent of any zoning laws, easements or access agreements before closing on their country dream home.
Farm Credit Services of America (FCSAmerica), a lender that specializes in financing homes in the country and rural communities, developed the following tips to help inform your clients about the potential legalities of their rural property purchase.
Zoning laws directly impact rural property owners by classifying land into districts with regulated uses. Each individual county has their own criteria as to how each property is classified. Common classifications include residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural areas.
In addition to confirming the zoning designation, homebuyers should understand the permitted uses and restrictions that apply to their property. It’s also a good idea to contact the local government office and obtain a copy of the applicable zoning map to consider compatibility with neighboring areas.
Easements grant limited rights to use another person’s property for a specific purpose, such as allowing a neighbor access to a private road or permitting a utility company to install a fiber optic line.
In general, easements are contractual agreements that fall under two categories: appurtenant easements or personal easements.
An appurtenant easement benefits an individual in their capacity as a landowner. Unless the agreement says otherwise, this type of easement runs with the land and is transferred automatically when the property is sold to a new owner.
For example, if a landowner owns a parcel of land that has access to a river and has granted an easement appurtenant to their neighbor for use of that access, when the parcel is sold the easement still stands for the new owner of the property. Similarly, if the neighbor sells their property, that new owner would also have the same right to use the easement.
Also known as an easement in gross, personal easements are exclusive to an individual or entity. Once the property changes hands the easement may be terminated or transferred with the landowner’s consent.
Because lending institutions are responsible for reestablishing a personal easement if the borrower fails to make their mortgage payments, most lenders require an appurtenant easement to limit this liability.
One of the best ways for rural homebuyers to avoid any unsuspecting easement issues is to work with their lender to conduct a title search prior to purchasing the property. This is an important step in protecting homebuyers against any potential title discrepancies that may arise in the future.
Contrary to popular belief, unrestricted road access is not guaranteed with every rural property purchase. In some cases, it may require crossing private property lines.
If a property cannot be accessed from a public road, homebuyers should confirm a deeded access agreement exists with the adjoining landowners. Road use and maintenance terms should also be negotiated to keep up good neighbor relations.
Property rights are within every homebuyer’s control as long as they are aware of the legal implications of their rural property purchase.
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