The word “egress” is a synonym of the word “exit.” It means the act of leaving or going out of someplace. In real estate and property law, “egress” refers to a person’s right to exit a piece of property. This is usually partnered with other terms such as “ingress” (the right to enter property) and “regress” (the right to return to property).
Under federal, state, and local laws, owners, lessees, and tenants generally have the right to ingress and egress any property which they have the right to occupy.
Sometimes, however, an owner’s right to ingress and egress depends on their having an easement on a neighboring property. An easement is a right to use someone else’s property for a limited purpose. Problems can arise if the easement expires or if a new owner decides not to respect the easement. For example, if person A has to drive on person B’s driveway to get to their own, person A needs person B to grant them an easement.
Not all easements are perpetual, meaning they go on essentially forever. Some are temporary, and some are only valid when held by the current property owner or easement holder. When purchasing a property that requires an easement, the buyer must be careful to verify that any easement they need to get onto their property will be transferred to them when they purchase the property.
Common easements include road access, power lines, TV cables, utility, drainage, sewers, slopes, and construction easements.
When Does Ingress and Egress Become an Issue?
Ingress and egress often become issues when access is blocked for a homeowner or other person with the right to occupy a property. For example, a homeowner might have to use a driveway that crosses another person’s property to get to a main road. The other person might decide to block the driveway for whatever reason. (Perhaps the owner of the neighboring property has become unhappy with some use that the easement owner is making of it.)
Sometimes, landlocked parcels of real property are sold without means of ingress and egress. It is general practice that an owner will have ingress and egress from a piece of their real property, but sometimes (often in rural settings), someone will sell a property with no ingress or egress. The buyer then needs to purchase an easement from one of their neighbors so that they can get to their own land.
Ingress and egress can become major issues when accessing natural resources or other materials found on or near the property. For instance, if a plot of land has natural access to a stream or river, blocking others from that access could make those homes less valuable.
Last, ingress and egress issues can arise out of boundary disputes. For instance, if one neighbor’s fence encroaches on the other neighbor’s property, it might lead to a legal dispute over ingress and egress.
Regress can become an issue in cases where a person loses title or is evicted from the land. In such cases, they may lose the right to regress, i.e., to return to the land, even if they have a legitimate need.
In a contest over ingress and egress rights, a lawsuit may be necessary to resolve the dispute. However, before turning to the courts for a solution, an owner or other legal occupant of land would want to approach a neighboring landowner and try to negotiate a dispute settlement. This might involve negotiating the purchase of an easement.
What are Ways to Protect Ingress/Egress Rights?
Someone who plans to buy a landlocked parcel might plan for ingress and egress rights to be part of the deed. This could be done if the person buys the property from a neighbor over whose property the person would need ingress and egress to get to their landlocked parcel.
Having the easement written into the deed means that every future property owner will have the same easement as the current purchaser. This could be advantageous if the buyer wants to sell the property later. Future buyers will be more comfortable purchasing the property if the right to ingress and egress is part of the deed.
Sometimes, a property owner might negotiate a land use agreement to resolve an ingress/egress problem. A land use agreement is a contract that spells out specific duties and responsibilities between two people with property interests.
Note that easements and land use agreements should be recorded in the county where the property is located. If they are not recorded, they will not run with the land, meaning they will not apply to future owners.
Parties have great flexibility in a land use agreement to determine how much access will be granted from one owner. For example, a land use agreement that gives one neighbor the right to cross the other neighbor’s land might limit the weight of the trucks that can drive across the land. A land use agreement might also contain provisions that the limited-access property owner must pay for the upkeep of any roads they will use.
What if I Have a Property Dispute Over Egress Rights?
If someone seeks relief from a neighbor’s refusal to honor an easement, a court might order an injunction (an order that compels someone to do or not do something). An injunction compelling a property owner to allow their neighbor to use the property owner’s land for ingress and egress to their own land would allow the property owner the right to access their property. Alternatively, the court might order a structure to be removed, demolished, or altered to no longer block access.
In some cases, an easement by necessity may be granted. This is where the court allows the property owner to cross another person’s property to enter and leave their own property, possibly via a sidewalk or other pathway that crosses a neighbor’s land.
Lastly, if an injunction is not possible or compliance with an injunction would be too costly for the owner who must give access across their land, the court might issue an award of monetary damages to compensate the property owner for losses caused by the lack of ingress and egress.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With an Egress Issue?
Having access to land that you own is very important. For one thing, you need access to enjoy your land. Moreover, when it comes time to sell the piece of property, having/not an easement can affect the value of a property. You may wish to hire a qualified real estate lawyer if you have any questions or concerns regarding ingress or egress to your property.
Your attorney can review your situation’s facts and provide legal advice regarding possible solutions. An experienced real estate lawyer can help negotiate an easement or a land use agreement. If you must go to court to seek a solution, an experienced real estate lawyer can represent you. You have the best chance of getting the most favorable outcome if you have an experienced real estate lawyer representing your interests.