February 19, 2011
Landowners Ignorant About Encumberances on Their Land
It is perhaps not surprising to many of us that landowners don't understand the encumberances on their land. If someone has never heard the term "conservation easement" before, it's not surprising that they don't understand what it means when they see it with their deed. One would hope, however, that you would find out before buying the property.
An article in yesterday's Washington Post gives examples of landowners who are uninformed about the nature of the restrictions on their land. Although the Post writer doesn't place blame, the official at the County Planning Office quoted in the article is not hesitant about pointing the finger at real estate agents.
Although this article doesn't present heartening news for the land conservation community, I was glad to see this in print. I have been hearing stories like this from landowners for a few years now (folks who just didn't realize there were encumberances on their land). While our land recording systems appear to ensure landowners will get notice of the restrictions on their land, we see that it doesn't always happen. This article highlights that such notice may not be meaningful if purchasers don't understand the deeds they are reading.
Not sure what the answer is to concerns like this. Fewer deed restrictions perhaps, but that is not very satisfying. We could require real estate agents to clearly explain all the provisions in a deed, but it doesn't look like it would have helped here. The couple that the story focuses on read and signed the conservation easement indicating that they had reviewed it. Looks like this couple may turn to the courts for relief. Hope their lawyer is better than their real estate agent.
UPDATE ON 02/21:
The Washington Post has added (or maybe it was there all along but I didn't see it) a great graphic showing where the conserevation easement was. This case has sparked an interesting debate in the land conservation community about the appropriateness of protecting backyards in this way.
- Jessica Owley
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