How to Get Access to Landlocked Property

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How to Get Access to Landlocked Property
By

Bart Waldon

If you own vacant land that has no road access or legal easement, it presents a major hurdle to actually using the property. Landlocked parcels with no deeded access essentially have zero value in the real estate market. But various options exist to establish legal access to these properties and obtain an easement to unlock their usability and value.

This blog will explore strategies including pursuing easements, negotiating with neighbors, improving existing access, and outright purchasing access rights. We’ll also look at the feasibility of these approaches based on common landlocked scenarios.  

Defining Landlocked Property

A landlocked parcel has no direct access to a public road or highway via a legal right of way. The property is surrounded entirely by other private lands with no official easement granting access rights.

Without legal access established, owners cannot freely come and go from their property. Landlocked real estate cannot be developed when no vehicles, utilities or other improvements can be brought in. Uses are extremely limited on landlocked acreage.

How Does Land Get Landlocked in the First Place?

There are a few common scenarios that result in landlocked status:

- Parcels subdivided without establishing road access easements

- Unofficial access routes getting cut off when neighboring lands sell

- Never-used old mining claims or homesteader parcels granted before access roads reached the remote areas

- Severed portions of a larger ranch losing access after the ranch gets subdivided and sold piecemeal

- Deed errors or omissions failing to grant easement access rights

- Prescriptive easements expiring after prolonged non-use

Regardless of how it happened, fixing land access requires applying one of several legal strategies. Let’s examine the options...

Pursuing an Easement for Access

The most straightforward solution is pursuing an access easement across neighboring lands to reach a public road. However, securing an easement by necessity requires either mutual agreement with the neighbor or legally compelling the neighbor to grant an easement through a lawsuit. This can become contentious.

Here are key considerations around easement access:

- Research title records to identify any historical easements attached to the landlocked parcel that might still be legally valid. Also check county records thoroughly.

- Hire a land use attorney to assess if you have grounds to file for a legal easement based on local case law precedent. Things like prior use history can strengthen your case.

- Explore options to purchase an easement from neighboring property owners. Though expensive, it provides certainty. Offer to cover all legal and installation costs.

- In lawsuits, appraisals and testimony are needed proving the easement value loss to neighbor is less than the landlocked parcel gaining road access.

- If granted an easement through courts, the legal approach is crucial so that the access rights transfer permanently to all future owners.

- Road access is ideal, but sometimes a simple foot path easement is all courts will grant. This still leaves issues for any development.

As you can see, easements are powerful but require either money to purchase or a lengthy legal fight to compel a neighbor into granting one. Let's explore other options...

Negotiating Access with Neighbors

Before pursuing legal action, it's worth a try negotiating directly with adjoining land owners first. Maintain friendly relations with neighbors whenever possible.

Some tips for negotiating land access:

- Research property records for any historical informal access or “gentlemen's agreements” across their land. Make them aware of past accepted use.

- Offer reasonable compensation for access - pay for driveway installation costs, property taxes on the easement land, etc. to offset their burdens.

- For seasonal or limited use, consider lease agreements rather than permanent easements. Pay an annual fee for defined access rights.

- If they use your landlocked parcel for things like hunting, offer to trade access for their continued recreational use.

- Get any handshake or verbal agreements formalized into written contracts to avoid future problems.

- Be flexible - maybe a gravel foot path is possible if they refuse vehicle access. Something is better than nothing.

With patience and willingness to make fair concessions, this approach is lower conflict and cost. But success hinges on cooperative neighbors open to access deals benefiting both parties.

Purchasing Access Rights from Neighbors

If you have the financial means, buying permanent access express easement rights across adjoining parcels provides full legal access. This requires neighbors willing to sell easement rights.

Some tips when purchasing access:

- Get quotes from multiple land surveyors to determine fair market value of access route's square footage.

- Offer 10-20% above appraised values as incentive for neighbors to sell.

- Confirm existing title does not already establish access rights before paying unnecessarily.

- Hire an attorney to handle the title work and record the access and easement agreement with county for permanence.

- Purchase wide enough easement for appropriate road and utilities access to enable full use.

- Require sellers remove any encroachments like fences or sheds blocking access.

Though expensive, you will gain access to guaranteed permanent legal access adding immense value. This path is certainty without legal fights or hoping for neighbor cooperation.

Special Case – Buying a “Flagpole” Parcel

In some cases when a landlocked parcel borders a public roadway, an option is purchasing a thin sliver of land connecting your boundary to the road to create access.

This is referred to as a “flagpole” lot or panhandle lot due to the long thin shape:

- Research whose land you need for shortest connective corridor to road.

- Offer competitive prices based on appraisals since you need their specific land.

- Purchase adequate width for driveway - at least 12 to 25 feet wide for vehicle access.

- Include width for utilities like water, sewer and power lines also.

- Retain surveyors to split parcel into a new connected lot you can purchase.

- May need variance approval to create unusual flagpole shape.

By buying the strip of land linking you to the road from a property owner, you circumvent dependence on easements. But availability depends on adjacent parcels.

When Existing Access is Unclear or Disputed

Sometimes land access is loosely permitted by neighbors but not formalized legally. Or discrepancies in deeds blur who actually controls access routes. These scenarios pose challenges:

- Gather any documentation about historical use to demonstrate pre-existing access.

- It may be possible to claim access rights through prescriptive easements when prior use is proven. But this requires litigation in most cases.

- If a route was commonly used for many decades, negotiate with neighbors to formalize that in writing, even if not definitively deeded. Some protection is better than none.

- Be prepared to pay substantially for access rights if the situation is muddied or contentious. Ambiguity weakens your negotiating stance.  

- Seek additional routes and contingency plans for access rather than relying on one questionable path.

- Unverified access leaves risk of losing routes abruptly if ownership changes. Solid legal access should be a priority.

Resolution often requires legal clarification of the deed records, histories and property laws. But wise documentation and talking with locals can reveal useful information on historical access.

Is Purchasing Landlocked Land Ever a Good Idea?

In most cases, buying landlocked property also makes for a poor investment because legal access is difficult to attain and the land cannot be put to beneficial use.

However, deeply discounted landlocked land may be worth buying IF:

- You have strong evidence of historical access use that may justify a lawsuit to claim easement rights.

- Adjacent parcels are also isolated making it unlikely neighbors will cut off access routes. There are no “NIMBY” neighbors to contend with.

- The surrounding topography makes building an access road feasible if needed in the future.

- Establishing legal access appears viable through one or more of the strategies mentioned earlier in the post. Don’t assume access is impossible.

- The land is part of a larger investment plan where having additional acreage could prove useful someday.

While still risky, some landlocked deals at fire sale prices may provide access potential if you research carefully and avoid overly emotional buying.

Closing Thoughts

While securing guaranteed legal access to landlocked parcels can be difficult and expensive, various options exist. The keys are being persistent, creative, and exploring every angle through legal means or neighbor negotiations.

With upfront homework and preparation, many property owners successfully turn their landlocked lands into accessible parcels able to be used and developed. But patience and meticulous planning are required, as access issues cannot be ignored or circumvented.

Those lacking the time, skills or resources to establish access may ultimately opt to contact a direct land buyer like Land Boss willing to purchase landlocked property as-is. While bought at a significant discount, companies like Land Boss offer cash payments providing an exit without the headaches of securing land access yourself.

Landlocked Status Reduces Value, But All Hope is Not Lost

Landlocked properties garner far lower offers compared to lands with legally deeded access rights. Most buyers avoid landlocked parcels entirely due to not wanting the hassle involved with trying to secure usable access.

And even in cases where access seems feasible through neighboring lands, buyers remain nervous about lack of permanent guaranteed access. No one wants to risk time and money on a property that could end up entirely useless if access gets revoked.

However, for those with patience and foresight, some great landlocked deals exist sitting on the market years with few takers due to access challenges hampering sales.

Let’s walk through some scenarios where purchasing cheap landlocked acreage might work with proper planning and due diligence...

Landlocked Lands with Cooperative Neighbors

In many rural regions, even landlocked lands have some informal access through neighboring properties via dirt two-tracks, logging paths, or field lanes. This was often permitted decades ago when relations among area farmers and ranchers were friendlier and handshake deals were common.

For a buyer willing to maintain friendly relations with adjoining owners or property owner, limited access may continue being allowed informally. Though technically not guaranteed legally forever, such scenarios enable beneficial property use with relatively low risk of losing access.

Investing in minor access upgrades like gravel, gates and signage can help secure continued access. And remaining on good terms with the community makes revocation of historical access rights less likely.

Contingent Purchases Dependent on Gaining Access

If a landlocked parcel seems to have potential for legal access through one of the strategies outlined earlier, it may make sense to pursue purchase contingent upon successfully securing legal access during a feasibility study period.

Terms would stipulate that closing will occur and funds will transfer only once permanent recorded access has been established to the buyer’s satisfaction.

This transfers the burden of handling access issues to the buyer rather than the seller. A lower initial offer decreases the buyer’s risk during the preliminary access verification process.

If it becomes clear legal access is unattainable, the buyer can terminate the deal with loss limited to their due diligence costs like survey fees, attorney time and any application or permitting fees on attempted access routes.

Purchase as Part of a Broader Land Investment Plan

Sometimes purchasing an adjacent landlocked parcel can make sense as part of a larger contiguous acreage investment, even knowing the landlocked area may be unusable or available only seasonally.

In this scenario, the buyer has a master plan tying together multiple parcels in the vicinity. So adding the extra landlocked acreage provides a buffer from neighbors, timber value, recreational space or potential resources access like a creek section not available via other lands owned.

While the landlocked parcel has minimal standalone value on its own, it adds strategic value in combination with surrounding lands when viewed as a broader investment.

Is It Ever Possible to Develop Land without Legal Access?

A question people sometimes ask is whether any type of structures or dwellings could be built on a landlocked property without establishing guaranteed permanent legal access.

While not always impossible, developing landlocked land faces major hurdles:

- Building codes in most areas require documented legal access for construction permits. Mobile homes and manufactured buildings also require access verification before they will complete factory construction.

- Constructing any substantial buildings or dwellings would still require heavy equipment access to excavate and complete foundations.

- Emergency services like fire and ambulance may be unable to serve structures on land they can’t freely and legally access as needed. This raises liability.

- Buyers will offer drastically lower prices for buildings located on landlocked parcels due to concerns over resale value and ongoing access disputes.

- Any agricultural buildings like barns or workshops usually require vehicle access at minimum to transport materials, livestock or equipment onto the acreage.

In limited cases, modest hunting cabins or primitive structures have been erected on landlocked parcels in very rural regions with lax enforcement. But buyers should think critically before attempting to build on land lacking secure legal access and consider contacting a real estate lawyer. A real estate attorney could help resolve concerns.

Can Government Entities Landlock a Private Parcel?

A common question is whether federal, state or local governments can landlock existing private property by cutting off access. The answer is generally no for most types of conveyance.

However, in certain limited circumstances, government actions can indirectly landlock parcels:

- Building roads – While rare, relocating public roads has left some parcels without access points in unique cases. However, impacted owners may be able to claim compensation.

- Park lands – Federal park or forest boundaries enveloping private inholdings can technically landlock properties, though access is usually granted via easements or forest roads.

- Border walls – Installation of border fencing has apparently landlocked some U.S. parcels near Mexico. Owners must navigate bureaucracy to claim access rights.

- Eminent domain – Governments can potentially seize access easements on landlocked parcels through condemnation, though payment would be owed for lost property rights.

While exceptional cases exist, outright landlocking of previously accessible private property by the government faces extensive legal scrutiny. But owners should still monitor nearby public projects closely for any access impacts.

Can a Landlocked Parcel Be Adversely Possessed?

Adverse possession is a legal concept where someone can potentially claim ownership of property they openly occupy without the real owner’s permission for a period of years. Some states have adverse possession laws that require as little as 5 years of obvious exclusive use.

But adverse possession claims on landlocked parcels are much more difficult since the adverse possessor has no viable way to openly occupy the land. With no legal access, they cannot physically enter the property frequently as required to demonstrate possession.

So while an idle parcel of accessible land risks adverse possession claims if the owner ignores encroachers, landlocked status makes these ownership claims much harder to successfully execute.

Contact Land Boss If You're Looking For Cash for Landlocked Property

For property owners seeking to sell landlocked acreage, the limited buyer pool and discounted offers make for a difficult process using traditional sales methods.

However, companies like Land Boss specialize in buying landlocked rural land for cash on an as-is basis. We can provide fair cash offers quickly with no obligation to you if you are a landlocked property owner.

Our team thoroughly researches deeds and property records to analyze parcel access challenges and make appropriate cash offers accounting for lack of legal access.

We handle everything from due diligence to closing, providing a fast, convenient land sale. There are no closing costs for the seller.

While pricing is heavily discounted due to access limitations, an outright land sale through Land Boss provides a viable exit strategy for rural landlocked properties that may otherwise sit on the market indefinitely.

So if you own landlocked property and do not want to bother obtaining legal access, contact us now to explore selling your landlocked land for cash! We make it fast, easy, and take all the liability of securing access off your hands. You do not need to know advanced real estate law or spend thousands of an experienced real estate attorney to gain legal access to landlocked property since we buy for cash AS IS.

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