Easements: What are easements?

Everything homeowners need to know about easements

Those who know what easements are have no need to shy away from challenges as a (future) homeowner. An example of what homeowners need to know about easements can be seen in the following example with the couple Fabienne and Christian.

Fabienne and Christian want to become homeowners. Before purchasing the property, however, they find that their options for using it are subject to certain restrictions. This information can be found namely by taking a look at the land record extract, which is where easements are listed.

The couple is not alone in their discovery. This is because all property owners need to address easements sooner or later, whether these are personal easements or land easements. As a general rule, there are two questions that should be asked in this context:

  • Which easements are significant for homeowners?
  • What can you do if your easement rights are violated?

Land easements and personal easements define fundamental rights

Easements entail more than just restrictions, and also grant a number of freedoms. The couple in our example, Fabienne and Christian, are now familiarizing themselves with ground leases and rights-of-way.

Independent and permanent ground leases

In return for paying ground rent, Fabienne and Christian can be granted a ground lease by a landowner in the form of a personal easement. In many cases, municipalities own plots of land and grant ground leases on them accordingly. This ground lease allows the couple to build their owner-occupied home on land belonging to another party. If the ground lease is independent and permanent, it can be added to the land records as a plot of land and subsequently treated in essentially the same way as a regular independent property. For example, the ground lease can be sold, inherited, or encumbered with liens on real estate.

One major advantage of this solution for the couple is the smaller investment amount. They only need to finance the construction of the building, which means they can take out a smaller loan. The use of the building plot is paid for via periodic ground rent payments.

Right-of-way as an easement

Christian and Fabienne decide to acquire an existing property. After the purchase, however, they discover that the neighbors have a right-of-way to a footpath on the couple's property.

When the couple have their property's pipes refurbished one year later, this renders some parts of the footpath impassable. Since this means that the neighbors no longer have adequate access to the public road, the couple is obligated to grant them temporary access via an emergency route.

Other forms of easements

The couple in the example also find themselves confronted with other forms of easements. These include:

Building restrictions:
A building restriction can be entered in the land records as a land easement. If Fabienne and Christian want to build a pizza oven in their garden, they should first check for any building restrictions on their property and notify their bank if they intend to take out a loan.

Reduced setback entitlement or right to build close to the property line:
Neighbors can mutually grant each other the right to build closer to the property line than the distance prescribed under the standard legal provisions. This is referred to as a reduced setback entitlement or right to build close to the property line.

Fabienne and Christian have the option of agreeing on a reduced setback entitlement or right to build close to the property line with their neighbors, e.g. in order to adjust the limits of their garden fence.

Please note: A reduced setback entitlement or right to build close to the property line does not grant total discretion over the setback. The mandatory limits under public law (particularly cantonal building laws) must always be observed. For example, building legislation may stipulate that compliance with the building line is absolutely mandatory but the distance may be distributed unequally across the neighboring properties.

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