South Carolina Land Locked Laws

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A landlocked property is a plot of land to which there is no direct access via a public roadway. To access this type of property, a party must cross a property owned by another individual or organization.

Those who own landlocked properties have a legal right-of-way to their property through what are known as easement rights. These rights allow landlocked property owners to use a portion of someone else’s land to gain access to their own property.

Depending upon the situation and past ownership of the landlocked real property and the properties surrounding it, there are various types of easements that a landowner can use to access their property under South Carolina law.

What Is Landlocked Property?

A landlocked property is a property with no legal access road that leads to it. It is surrounded by land owned by other individuals or entities, and the only way to access it is by traveling through or crossing the property of another party.

Examples of landlocked properties include those in remote wooded areas or behind a mall. If the only way to get to a property is by a means other than a legal access road, such as crossing through someone else’s real estate or passing through a commercial development, the property is landlocked.

What Are Easement Rights?

An easement gives an individual, business or government the right to use the property of another for a specific purpose. While they can use it, they do not have ownership interest in it. How they use the property depends on the type of easement they have.

When an easement is granted, neither the owner (grantor) or the user (grantee) can change its scope, location or size without the other party’s consent.

Express and Implied Easement Law

Easements may be implied or expressed. An implied easement occurs when circumstances and facts regarding the property, the parties using the property, and the transaction or another characteristic demonstrate that both parties' objective intent is to create an easement. There are two types of implied easements.

Express easements are created through contracts, deeds or other written documents. They describe the easement’s location and dimensions, as well as the scope of the interest being conveyed.

South Carolina courts will attempt to establish the parties’ intentions if the express easement is too ambiguous by examining the facts and circumstances of the transaction.

Implied Easement by Necessity

Under easement by necessity, the landlocked property and the property that the party asking for an easement needs to use in order to access it must have been part of one property under the same ownership in the past.

Its division must have caused the property to be landlocked, and the need for an easement must have occurred when the property was divided.

In addition, the party needing an easement must not have caused the problem and must show that the lack of an easement is of great difficulty when accessing the property. However, they do not have to prove that the only possible way to access their property is by an easement.

Implied Easements by Prior Use

To prove prior, preexisting, use, the party seeking an easement to a landlocked property must show that all of the following exist:

  • Both properties were once owned by a common grantor.
  • Use of the easement existed when the owner split the property.
  • Use of the easement is necessary to enjoy and use the landlocked property.

This concept recognizes easements not only for roads but for utility lines.

Prescriptive Easement in South Carolina

Prescriptive easement allows a party that is not the original owner of a property to certain rights to use another's property. This type of easement often arises on rural properties when owners don’t know that a neighbor is using part of their land.

If a party uses another's property for a certain period under adverse possession law, that party may establish a legal right to use the land.

Adverse Possession Laws

Under South Carolina adverse possession laws, an adverse possession claim must be:

  • Hostile‌, meaning without permission and against the right of the property owner.
  • Actual‌, meaning the person trespassing on the property exercises control over it.
  • Exclusive‌, or possessed by the trespasser alone, meaning they protected the property with a substantial enclosure and improved it.
  • Open and notorious‌, meaning they use the property as the true owner would, and their occupancy is evident and not hidden.
  • Continuous‌, meaning they must occupy the property for 10 years according to S.C. Code Ann. Section 15-67-210.

Can a South Carolina Easement Be Terminated?

Easements typically do not terminate. However, there are few ways in which they can be. According to Law Shelf, some ways to terminate an easement include:

  • Release:‌ Both parties agree to the easements’ end for a particular reason.
  • Expiration:‌ If the easement was created for a specific time period (for example, a construction job), it can become void after a particular date or the completion of use.
  • Merger:‌ If one owner acquires the landlocked property and the original land, then the easement will no longer be necessary.
  • Abandonment:‌ If the party holding the easement stopped using it or clearly indicates they intend to give it up, the easement will end.

Easements may or may not have much impact on a property's overall value, depending on the extent of use. They are fairly common, particularly when used for utility purposes.

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