What Is Landlocked?

Landlocked in the context of real estate refers to a piece of property that is inaccessible via public thoroughfare, except through an adjacent lot. A vacant lot that is located behind a strip mall and can only be reached by walking through the mall qualifies as this type of lot. Landlocked property is locked up, meaning it's surrounded by other property. 

Key Takeaways

  • Landlocked in the context of real estate refers to a piece of property that is inaccessible via public thoroughfare, except through an adjacent lot.
  • Landlocked property is locked up, meaning it's surrounded by other property. 
  • Owners of a landlocked property can obtain an easement, which grants the right to cross over neighboring land to access to the public road.

Understanding Landlocked

Landlocked parcels are typically the result of subdivisions or the division of a larger parcel of land into smaller parcels, which are sold off individually. Ideally, the smaller parcels would each have access to a public right-of-way, but sometimes that’s not possible. For example, a seller might wish to subdivide a large square parcel with a landscape feature in the center, such as a mountain, that’s unsuitable for development. Rather than carving out a gerrymandered parcel that gives road access to the mountain, it might be left as landlocked.

Landlocked real estate properties can occur when land that's been in a family for many years is divided up between family members. Eventually, when properties are sold, there becomes a need for the properties to be separately owned. Accessing the landlocked property might not have been an issue when the surrounding properties were owned by the same family. However, once the ownership changes for some of the properties, access to the landlocked real estate can become an issue.

Criticisms of Landlocked Real Estate

Landlocked property typically has a lower value than the surrounding properties, due to its inaccessibility. However, that doesn't mean the landlocked real estate is worth nothing. However, obtaining a loan or mortgage for the property can be difficult since banks may not finance a landlocked property. The lack of access to the property for public services, such as medical and fire personnel, can make banks and prospective buyers pass on dealing with a landlocked property.

Easement

Access to a landlocked property or parcel can be challenging for the owner. However, state and federal laws protect the right of property owners to “productive use” of their land, which means, in general, the right to gain access to a public road.

An easement, which grants the right to cross over neighboring land, is used to provide such access. There are various types of easements, some easier to acquire than others. But, savvy buyers who understand the rules can find good investments in landlocked property.

The stress-free way to get an easement is through a friendly negotiation with a neighboring landowner. They might be tempted to grant a verbal promise, which allows a landlocked owner to cross their land, but buyers are advised to get the promise in writing. A written easement created by a real estate lawyer, and registered with the local deed office provides security for the landlocked property owner. With a verbal arrangement, the neighbor could change their mind, or sell their land to a less hospitable owner. Finally, the neighbor's word won’t carry much weight when the landlocked parcel goes up for sale again. A permanent easement in writing avoids all of these potential problems.

Easement by Necessity

If a neighbor balks at signing a friendly easement or asks for unreasonable compensation, it may be necessary to obtain an easement by necessity. An easement by necessity is a court order granting the landowner legally entitled access to their property. However, the landlocked owner must prove through a deed and title search that both the landlocked property and the neighboring property were at one time owned by the same person. The court is essentially ruling that when the property was subdivided, the owner neglected to provide the necessary road access.

Special Considerations

It’s important to note that filing for an easement by necessity will entail legal costs. Also, it may leave the landlocked owner with an angry neighbor who can appeal the ruling. There are exceptions to an easement by necessity, such as land patents granted by the federal government, even those dating back hundreds of years. To avoid being embroiled in legal battles over a landlocked property, buyers should consult an experienced real estate attorney.