Advice on Easement or Buying Lot in Oakland

Hi- I'm in Oakland and live next door to an empty lot. I'm interested in buying part of the lot to get more yard space. (I don't think we can afford the full lot.) Does anyone have experience with buying part of a lot? Is it possible to only buy part, and does it need city approval? Or, have you gotten easement rights before- and if so, what happens if they decide to sell the lot, do we lose the easement? Finally, can you recommend any lawyers who can negotiate this (we have the contact information for the lot owners but don't know them. We would have to approach them to buy.) Thanks in advance!

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Hello, generally you cannot buy just a portion of a residential lot because it will make the smaller than the City's regulations allow. So your option here is negotiating an access and no-build easement with the current owners. Easements are binding on subsequent property owners, so assuming it's properly drafted your right to use the easement area would carry over to new owners. Please feel free to DM if you want to discuss further. I'm a real estate lawyer and do easements frequently.

Buying part of a lot can be tricky.  Before contacting a lawyer see if it's even possible.  Start by contracting the owner of the lot to see if you can buy it.  My be a good investment.  If owner doesn't want to sell, see if you can get permission to use a portion or get a rental agreement.  Easement get complicated, and expensive.  If I owned the lot I would not give you one because it devalues the land and makes the sale of the lab more complicated.

I can't offer legal advice on a specific lot or transaction, but: In general it is not possible to buy or sell less than a complete lot. And in general an easement "runs with the land," meaning that it lasts even when the land is sold.

In general, you cannot buy only part of a lot.  You would need to do a "lot split" to divide the empty lot, or "lot line adjustment" to change the boundary between your parcel and the one next to it; either way it's a complicated and expensive land development process, and there are many reasons that the city might not allow it.

If you are able to reach an agreement about it with the owner of the empty lot, you can buy an easement over just part of their lot.  How likely they are to agree may depend on what plans they have for the property and whether the remaining part of the lot is big enough to build a house on (with required setbacks etc.), as well as how you're planning to use the space.  You would need a lawyer to write and record the easement agreement, and, preferably, a surveyor to create the exact description of where your easement is.  Again this can get expensive, but it's much easier than a lot line adjustment and does not require any city approvals.  A recorded easement remains in place even when the affected properties are sold; it's permanent unless and until both owners agree to change or terminate it.

You might also create a "license" or "use" agreement for the part of the lot that you'd like to add to your yard.  This is similar to an easement in some ways, and similar to a lease or rental agreement in some ways.  It can include basically whatever arrangements you want about how the property is used and maintained, regular payments (for the property taxes, insurance, etc.), and under what conditions either owner can terminate the agreement.  But unlike an easement, a license agreement does not automatically go with the land; it's a personal agreement between the current owners.  In your situation I would want a lawyer to write the agreement, and have it recorded, but this is probably the easiest thing to negotiate with the other lot's owners.

I'd approach the lot owners first just to see if they're interested at all, and talk about what kind of payment(s) they would accept, so that you know if there's even a deal to be made, before hiring a lawyer to negotiate and document the details.  Good luck!

We bought a lot in Oakland 35 years ago and built our house on it. Things have changed a bit in the interim, but I am a licensed Realtor and am somewhat familiar with the process.

In the past, whether one could subdivide a lot was determined by the areas, in square feet, of adjoining lots.

Now, with the new city planning atmosphere, driven by urban density fundamentalism and new laws such as SB9 and SB10, state law allows for duplexes and dual houses to be built on lots previously zoned for single-family residences.

What will most affect your ability to purchase the lot next door might be the goals and intents of the owners of this lot.  I would recommend that you write them a letter and express an interest in their lot, state that you are the next door neighbor, but do not talk price yet or say what you intend to use it for, or talk about buying a fraction of it. First you need to know what the owners are thinking.

Some owners hang onto a lot as an investment.  In this case, they may be waiting for the market to allow them to hit a specific price point.  Be aware that they probablycan sell the entire lot for a better price than two halves, depending on the location and the lot area.

There has been some talk about a law that would levy a fine on owners of vacant lots, as a way to encourage more housing construction. I don't know whether this law was passed, but it would bolster your chance of buying the lot if the owners are paying to keep it unbuilt.

Some owner may aspire to build their own house on the lot.  But over time plans can change. Building a house in Oakland is not for the faint-hearted, primarily because of financing complexities.

It does not hurt to ask the owner what their plans are for the lot!

That said, it is incredibly easy to sell a lot - some of the most absurd lots, on cliffs in good neighborhoods, are sold and built-upon. But if you happen to approach the owners at the right moment, you may luck out.