Easements: What are easements?

All about easements. What homeowners need to know.

Those who know what easements are have no need to shy away from challenges as a (future) homeowner. The various aspects associated with easements that homeowners need to know about 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. There are two different types of easement: land easements and personal easements.

Property owners need to address easements sooner or later. As a general rule, two questions play a central role here:

  • 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. 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 the 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. It is then treated in essentially the same way as a regular independent property, i.e. it can be sold, inherited, or encumbered with liens on real estate.

One major advantage of this solution is the smaller investment amount in particular. The couple 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. In many cantons, these payments may be deducted from the imputed rental value.

Right-of-way as an easement

Christian and Fabienne decide to acquire an existing property. After the purchase, however, they discover that their neighbor has 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. This means that the neighbor no longer has adequate access to the public road. As a result, the couple has to grant him temporary access via an emergency route.

Other forms of easements

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

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 of them 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 could therefore agree with their neighbor on a reduced setback entitlement or right to build close to the property line, for example, to adjust the garden fence boundaries.

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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