A birds eye view of landlocked property

Buying Landlocked Property: What You Should Know

Dan Rafter6-minute read

July 16, 2021

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You found an empty piece of land along a secluded lake, the perfect site for your future weekend retreat. Or maybe you’ve found a chunk of vacant land behind an existing shopping mall that would be perfect for the restaurant you’ve always dreamed of opening. There’s only one problem: There’s no existing road to access the land. The only way to get to the property is by crossing a neighbor’s lot.

The land you want to buy is known as landlocked property. And if you want to purchase it, you might have to turn to legal means to build the access road you’d need to get to it or negotiate with your neighbors to gain the right to cross their property to reach your land.

Does this mean you should never purchase landlocked property? Not necessarily.

What Does Landlocked Property Mean?

As the name suggests, a landlocked property is a piece of land surrounded by lots owned by others. Because of this, the landlocked property has no legal access road to it. The only way to get to the land is by crossing through a neighbor’s property.

An example could be a vacant lot that sits behind a shopping mall. If the only way to get to this lot is by walking through the mall property, the land behind it is landlocked. Another example could be land in a wooded, mostly undeveloped area. The land might be surrounded by lots owned by others. If there is no road providing access to the plot of land, it, too, is landlocked.

Plots of land don’t have to remain landlocked. The buyers purchasing a landlocked parcel can negotiate with the owners of neighboring land or properties for an easement or right of way, a strip of land that they can use to build an access road to the land they want to buy or travel across to reach their property. This process could be easy or, depending on the owners of the neighboring land, require a lengthy and costly legal battle.

Answer box: Landlocked property is a piece of land that has no direct access road to it. The only way to access landlocked property is by traveling through a piece of land or property owned by someone else.

Subdividing Parcels Of Land

Landlocked parcels are often the result of owners subdividing their properties. Say some people own a large piece of land in a largely undeveloped area. They might want to split their land into smaller pieces, while keeping some of the land for themselves, so that they can sell the additional parcels for a profit.

Some of the resulting parcels might lack a direct access road to a main road. The owners who are selling the parcels know this and will usually be willing to negotiate an easement that will allow buyers to build direct private roads from a main road to the land they are buying.

The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Landlocked Property

It might seem like a bad move to purchase landlocked property. Why would you buy a lot that you can’t legally access?

Landlocked property, though, often comes at a steep discount because it does lack access. You might be able to buy landlocked property at a bargain price. If you can then negotiate with your neighboring property or landowners to gain access to the land, you will have purchased land at a deep discount that otherwise would have sold at a far higher price.

Buying landlocked property, then, might be a way to gain entry to a neighborhood, community or rural area that you normally would have been priced out of.

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What Is An Easement And Why Might You Need One?

If you purchase a landlocked property, you’ll probably need to secure an easement from your neighboring property owner.

An easement gives you access to your landlocked property. It might be as simple as your neighbors giving you the legal right to drive through their driveway to gain access to your property. Or your neighbors might give you the right to create a driveway or access road that runs on their property and leads to your land.

You might be able to negotiate directly with your neighbor to get an easement. This might include paying your neighbor a fee to allow you to access the land. Be sure, though, to never rely on a verbal or handshake agreement. Instead, sign legal documents to make the easement official.

Other times, your neighbor might not be willing to grant you an easement. In such cases, you might have to file a lawsuit to convince a court to grant you an easement.

What Is Right-Of-Way And How Does It Differ From An Easement?

Depending on the layout of your land, you might only need a right-of-way easement. This is a specific type of easement that allows you to travel over another person’s property. You might need a right-of-way if you can’t access a public road from your property without traveling across another owner’s land.

For instance, maybe you can get from a public road to your property by traveling down a paved drive that happens to run down your neighbor’s land. If your neighbor agrees to give you access to that driveway, you’ve now gained a right-of-way easement.

An easement is a more general term that gives you the right to use another person’s property for different uses. If you need to build a driveway that connects your property to a main road but can’t do that without encroaching on a slice of your neighbor’s land, you’d need an easement to build that driveway.

With a right-of-way, you can travel across someone’s property, but you can’t use that land or build any road on it.

Easement By Necessity 

If your neighboring property owner won't provide you with an easement, even if you offer to pay, you might have to obtain an easement by necessity. This is a court order that grants an owner access to their property through an easement.

To win an easement by necessity filing, you must prove, usually with the help of a deed and title search, that your landlocked property and the neighboring property were at one time owned by the same person. If you can prove this, the court will typically find that the owner who subdivided the land failed to provide the road access necessary to make the landlocked plot of land useful.

How To Obtain An Easement

There are different ways to obtain an easement that gives you access to landlocked property. The key, though, is to work with a real estate attorney who can draft a written easement agreement. This will provide more protection for landowners.

Survey The Land 

A good first step toward obtaining an easement is to pay for a professional to survey your land. During this survey – which will result in maps showing the exact boundaries of your property – your surveyor will also uncover the recorded history of your land and its neighboring lots.

This survey could show whether there were any access routes to your land in the past, something that could make getting an easement today an easier task. If you need to go to court to get an easement, the information in the survey could bolster your attorney's case on your behalf.

Contact The Property Owner

The easiest way to obtain an easement is to meet directly with the owner of the property on which you’ll need to carve out access to your land. Often, you’ll be able to work out a deal with this owner. You might have to pay your neighbor a fee for the access you need, but this will be less expensive and time-consuming than will going to court to get your easement.

Make An Offer And Negotiate

Working out a deal with your neighboring property owner might take some negotiation. It isn’t unusual for a property owner to reject your original offer for an easement and make a counteroffer. If you’re not comfortable with this counteroffer, or the price your neighbor wants, you’ll have to continue negotiations.

Meet With An Attorney

Don’t settle on any easement agreement until you first meet with a real estate attorney who has experience negotiating them. It’s important to get any easement agreements in written form. This way, you can refer to the documents if there is a dispute over access to your property in the future.

File A Court Order

If you and your neighbor can’t agree on an easement agreement, you might have to work with your real estate attorney to sue for access to your property. This is not ideal: Filing a lawsuit to gain an easement is expensive and takes time. It is also stressful. And if you succeed in gaining your easement, you might end up with a strained relationship with your neighboring property owner. This is why going to court for an easement should be considered a last resort.

The Bottom Line

There are pros and cons to buying landlocked property. You will need to take the steps to gain access to your land, and that could involve a long negotiation with your neighboring property owner or even a legal fight. You’ll have to determine if the reduced price that usually comes with landlocked property is worth this potential hassle. Visit our Learning Center to read more about easements and how having one affects your property.

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Dan Rafter

Dan Rafter has been writing about personal finance for more than 15 years. He's written for publications ranging from the Chicago Tribune and Washington Post to Wise Bread, QuickenLoans.com and RocketHQ.com.