Property Easement vs. Property Boundary: What’s The Difference?

  • 5 min read

So in real estate what is the difference between a property easement and a property boundary? Those are two terms you’ll see on deeds, real estate records, and real estate titles that you want to know about if you’re contemplating purchasing a property. 

What is a property boundary?

A property boundary is exactly what it sounds like, it’s the outside edges of a property. Typically property boundaries are squares, but can also be rectangular or polyangular. The boundary is where your property starts and somebody else’s property begins. 

So you want to know where the boundaries are because that determines what you own, but more importantly, it’s going to determine where you can build. Many counties and jurisdictions have regulations that say you can’t build within a certain distance from your boundary. This is called a setback, you have to be set back any structure typically 10-20 feet from the boundary line. Sometimes that also holds true for things like septic tanks. You can’t put a septic system within 5 feet of a boundary. And if you’re trying to build a house and you don’t have a place where you can put the house and the septic and everything you want to do, you could be out of luck. 

Even if you have enough space technically you may not be able to do it. You want to know where your boundaries are because you may want to put up a fence or a shed or some other structure and you’ll want to know where your boundaries are located. Plus, it tells you the size of your lot. If you need your property boundary to be found, a local surveyor can help assist you in locating the boundaries.

What is a property easement?

Property easements are vastly different from property boundaries. A property easement is a deeded right that allows someone the use of a property that does not belong to them. A property may have easements that allow encroachment onto the property. Well, why would you want to do that? 

First of all, some are required and some are good for your property. For example, utility easements. The power line that comes from the electric company to your house, either over the air on a pole or underground buried is on an easement because that power line belongs to the electric company. They have to fix it, repair it, and maintain it up until the time it gets to your electric meter. The meter is the power company’s property so they have to have your permission to put that line there and they have to have the authority to come to fix it. If your power lines are broken or the underground is damaged, you’ll want them to come to fix it. They have to have permission to do it so they have an easement that allows them to access that area. You may have an easement for things like water same thing, the water pipe from the water company or sewage company. 

There are also other types of easements. Sometimes the city will have an easement for space in front of the property where road maintenance will need to eventually be done. More troubling is you can have an easement from a neighbor. Maybe there’s a property that’s behind you that the neighbor has an easement to go across your property to get to theirs, they might have an access easement. There are also view easements in some areas of the country where somebody has a view to see the ocean or see a mountain or see a river. If that view goes over another property sometimes there’s a restriction where you can’t build above 10 feet in that easement area. Those easements will be described in the deed.

So before you buy a property make sure you know what the easements are because you’re bound by them even though you didn’t agree to them. You’re not the one who signed over that easement 10 years ago, but if you buy that property, that easement stays with the property and you are on the hook for it. Sometimes the easement requires you to pay money. You might have an easement for a road where you have to contribute to the maintenance and upkeep of that road. 

So a property easement is not the property boundary, it’s something that encroaches on your boundary. Now you may have an easement on another property where you’re allowed to go across, but even then that’s tricky because if you have a road easement that allows you to go across the property to get to yours, what if there’s some dispute over that easement? What if the roads are not kept in good condition you have to rely on that other neighbor?

So you want to make sure that any easements that you know what the pros and cons are and how it affects your boundaries. If you have an easement on another property you don’t own that land, but it does give you access. So seeing the difference between a property easement and a boundary is an important determination when you’re purchasing real estate. Even if you own real estate you have to know what your rights and responsibilities are. If it gets complicated you might want to contact an attorney to get appropriate legal advice about how to use a boundary or a property easement.

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