Definition of "Right of way"

Vicki  Crunk Cain real estate agent
Vicki Crunk Cain, Real Estate Agent Buddy Tankersley Realty & Auction

The definition of the term right of way is an easement or the right of another person to pass over land owned by someone else to reach a particular destination. An individual is typically allowed by law to walk over another individual's land to get someplace. Easements are of different types, but they all revolve around someone’s right to use land that does not belong to them. The land held by the government, so-called public land, can also be under the effect of the right of way. In this case, The government can use the land for transportation (highways, railway, oil and gas pipelines) or public land (national parks, national forests, habitats).

For a right of way, the easement is given to a particular individual to travel over the land owned by someone else. It may arise from repeated use or written agreement in situations when a property is bordered on all sides by other properties that are owned by others. In this situation, the parties involved should create a right of way easement if it doesn’t exist already, so the bordered owner can have access to roads or other utilities.

Right of way in real estate

When a buyer purchases a property or land, one of the first things that they should do is check the deeds of the land to see if it includes a right of way. The existence of a right of way may impose some limitations on the land owned as it allows other people to use land that is part of the property. The right of way can be public or private, but both of them do not affect ownership.

As mentioned above, roads or paths across privately owned land are known as public rights of way, and it is the most common of them. The private right of way allows a neighbor to have easier access to their property by cutting through another’s.

When purchasing a property or land, the buyer buys the right of way along with the property. As a buyer, the right of way is not something that remains between the former owner and whoever else uses the land for access. It is also important to note that all parties concerned need to agree to remove the right of way from a deed.

Examples of the right of way

Passing a store's property to get to a highway, and going through a neighbor's property as a shortcut to a community pool.

An owner that has a house with right of access to the land they own from any point from a shared driveway. When the neighbor with whom the owner shares the driveway wanted to build a brick wall to delimitate the shared driveway he couldn’t. A brick wall would make it impossible for the owner to reach his house as he would have no more access to the land from the shared driveway. This can lead to a dispute in court.

An owner of a property that is abutting other properties on each side has a right of way to access his property by traveling across a neighbor’s land. This can be agreed between the two neighbors but a written agreement is a good idea. The right of way can only allow the owner to walk through a particular part of the neighbor’s land or can be given access to all the land but this is to be discussed between the two parties.


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