Easements are limited rights to use a parcel of land given to other people or pieces of land. For instance, the utility company uses an easement to walk across your property and read your meter. A reciprocal easement occurs when you give an adjacent parcel the same rights to your parcel that they give you to theirs.
One of the most common residential uses of a reciprocal easement occurs when two units share a driveway, such as in a duplex. The reciprocal easement allows each side of the duplex to drive anywhere on the driveway and prevents either side from erecting a fence right down the middle of the driveway. Reciprocal easements are also useful for keeping access available to shared open space areas and to shared roads.
The most common commercial use of a reciprocal easement is in a parking lot. Many shopping centers split their parking lots into multiple parcels and sell those parcels off to other companies. The reason that the parking lot seems like one contiguous lot with some buildings in it is that every owner gives every other owner the right to let her customers cross the other lots. Reciprocal easements frequently come into play in mixed-used projects that span residential and commercial uses. They allow every owner to, for instance, use common hallways or other accesses.
Benefits and Drawbacks
The key benefit of a reciprocal easement is that it allows space to be used more efficiently. Instead of requiring each property to have its own dedicated access, amenities and surrounding features, reciprocal easements allow them to share those features, making higher density and greater flow between parcels possible. On the other hand, a reciprocal easement agreement also brings the challenge of determining how to allocate the costs of the easement areas and how to maintain the areas covered by the easements.
REA or CC&R
Reciprocal easement agreements and cost-sharing agreements aren't the only way to share common areas. Condominiums do it by setting up a condominium association that owns the common areas and maintains them in accordance with the community's conditions, covenants and restrictions. Going the CC&R route has the benefit of putting a third party, controlled by the owners, in charge of the nuts and bolts of administrating the shared space. However, that third party can add red tape and expense compared to having the owners themselves administer shared space through reciprocal easement agreements.
- Cox Castle Nicholson: Understanding Reciprocal Easement Agreements
- The Practical Real Estate Lawyer: Drafting Construction, Operation, and Reciprocal Easement Agreements for Vertical Mixed-Use Projects
- Law Seminars International: Reciprocal Easements, Cost Sharing Agreements and CC&Rs: The Blueprint for Ensuring a Successful Project
- Washington State Bar Association: Reciprocal Easement Agreement
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