Real estate ownership is a fundamental aspect of life for most Americans. It may seem obvious that a property owner has the right to control what happens to his or her property. However, as many property owners have found out, there are many other decision makers to consider when thinking about what rights a landowner has in Utah.

Generally speaking, the owner of real property has the right to do with it as he or she wishes, in the absence of any overriding rights or titleholders. But that’s the problem: there are almost always title issues and other legal issues that affect land use. In Utah, there are a few key places a property owner should look to determine what issues may arise and what rights he or she may actually have.

Real estate rights are often compared to an armful of sticks. Each stick in the packet represents a particular right associated with the property – for example, one stick might be mineral rights; another stick might be the right to cross a particular piece of land; another stick might be a utility easement; another stick might be for a canal; another stick might be an available purchase option; another stick might be development rights or restrictions. In fact, there are almost an infinite number of ways to subdivide real estate rights. Considering what “sticks” may have been granted, sold, or otherwise taken is a great first step in considering what a property owner can do with their property.

Rights previously sold or granted to a third party

Just because a person holds a title to a particular piece of land or dwelling does not mean that he or she owns all of the individual rights associated with that property. In fact, it is almost certain that a number of rights have been previously transferred from document holders in the chain of title leading to the current owner. These are usually recorded in the county real estate records. If a previous title holder has transferred a right (for example, by granting an easement to a third party), subsequent property owners will not receive that right – ownership of that right will remain with the person or entity that received it, and they may have transferred that right to other title holders. One typical example is utility easements: almost every parcel grants utility companies the right to enter the property, maintain utility lines and/or prohibit the destruction or blocking of lines or construction on them. These rights thus encumber the real estate and usually remain with the utility company and can be transferred to its successor companies.