A landlocked parcel is one that has no access to a public road or right of way. The most common reason that a parcel is landlocked is that the owner of a parcel that does have access to a public road sells the portion of the parcel with road frontage or access and retains a separate parcel without keeping a deeded access easement across the parcel with public road access. Thus the interior parcel loses its access and becomes landlocked. When that interior parcel is later sold, the new buyer has no deeded access to the public right of way. Some of the other ways in which a parcel can become landlocked are when a deeded right of way is abandoned; when an easement is lost as a result of prescription i.e., the owner of the land with access to the public road physically blocks use of an access easement for 5 or more years or when a parcel’s right of way over a third person’s land becomes disconnected from a public road after the public road is relocated and the private right of way is not extended.
The first step for anyone considering the purchase of property is to obtain a title report from a title company. The title report should contain any deeded access rights or court-ordered rights. If no access is shown on the title report, then the prospective buyer will have to consider the probable costs of curing the access problem when making an offer for the property. The costs of negotiations with an intervening owner or a court battle to gain access can be substantial.
Our legal system, based on English common law, presumes that land should not be allowed to lie fallow (incapable of being used). Thus, legal precedent over the centuries has tended to favor the attempt of an owner of a landlocked parcel to gain access so as to put the land to use. The court can perfect a prescriptive easement if the owner of the interior parcel can show open and notorious use of an access corridor against the interest of the owner of the land over which the easement runs over a five year continuous period of time. The court can also find an implied easement that would recognize that the creation of the landlocked parcel was an oversight and that the existence of a prior use should have been recognized by a deeded access at the time of division of the land. The court can also find an easement based on strict necessity where prior common ownership of the affected properties previously existed and no other means of access is available.
Buyers of land who find out after the purchase that there are access problems should approach our assessor division to see if the value we are planning to enroll should be adjusted to recognize the access issue. On some occasions the value enrolled can reflect an estimated cost to cure the access problem.
While these articles are not meant to contain legal advice, the author acknowledges the assistance of Paul Carey and Diane Dillon.