Common concerns for buyers, sellers, and owners of ranch property revolve around land access issues. These are unique issues for the ranch market, as the laws and logistics of getting to rural land may be more complicated than urban properties, where access is generally assumed and given. Ranch properties often share borders with private, state, and federal land, with or without roads bisecting those boundaries. Potential complications may arise around ownership and legal use of those roads, which can vary on a case-by-case basis. This is why it’s important to never assume legal land access, and be aware of issues that could arise.
Here’s what you need to know about common access troubles, and how to best deal with them.
When Access Roads Cross Property You Do Not Own
For properties that have direct public road access, often via county roads, the potential issues are few. However, routes into rural ranches can stretch for miles, crossing over property held by private landowners, state agencies, or the federal government. In these cases, your legal use of that road can become complicated. Without an easement allowing your use of that route, you can run into a situation where the ranch has no legal access. This may prevent you from entering the property, and can damage the value if you plan to sell. Furthermore, if you plan to purchase a ranch by utilizing loans, banks may not lend toward a property if it does not have legal, deeded access.
Fortunately, there are options to gain law-abiding access.
If the road crosses private property, it is often wise to approach the owner and ask to negotiate a deeded easement that allows you to use the road. You generally pay the landowner a sum that is calculated based on the acreage of the road and market land value. Thereafter, law binds access to the property indefinitely.
If the road crosses state land, the state land board or state land agency can issue either an easement or permit, depending on availability. Permits may need periodic renewal, and can contain terms that dictate the type of use allowed. Unlike easements, permits can be revoked.
If the road crosses federal land, easements or permits are issued through the U.S Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management. Be aware that gaining access from these agencies can be more involved and time-consuming than private or state parties, as they may require consolation and surveys from the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.
When Easement Negotiations Fail
If a private landowner refuses to grant use of their road through an easement, you may have to resort to legal action. This involves petitioning a court and proving that your use of the road is necessary to access your property. Once this request is deemed reasonable, an official easement can be authorized. In these cases, a third party dictates the cost of the easement.
When “Landlocked” Property has No Physical Road Access
Some rural ranch properties may not have an established trail or access road at all. Often, these pieces of land are surrounded by private, state, or federal land. “Landlocked” properties such as this present a unique challenge, as an easement will have to be secured to not only use the outside property, but develop it, as well. This takes time, and developing the land will cost money. Should the property owner agree, they may have a very particular idea of where they will let you build, and it’s no guarantee that this location will be advantageous for your needs.
Therefore, great care must be taken to negotiate the exact location in which the access road will be developed. In these cases, a land survey may be valuable to find the most efficient route possible.
Land access issues are common concerns for ranch owners, and they cannot be ignored. Understanding the legal status of roads leading to your property will give you the tools to avoid a headache with a neighbor or with the law. Ranch Marketing Associates offers decades of experience identifying and addressing problematic land access. Whether you’re buying, selling, or living on a ranch, our expertise can ensure that access is never an issue. Browse RMA’s ranches for sale in Colorado, California, Texas, New Mexico and Wyoming or contact us to learn about the comprehensive services we offer.