How to Work Out Easement Exchange with Untrustworthy Neighbors

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“I’m trying to work out an exchange of easements with a neighbor who owns property on both sides of me.  I need an easement across one of their properties in order to reach an otherwise inaccessible part of my property, and they want an easement across my property to get from one to the other of theirs.

That seems fair but the neighbor has repeatedly proven themselves to be untrustworthy and has ownership position in several different real estate companies/ventures where it seems that properties are frequently shuffled around, foreclosed and resold.  I am concerned that the entity they want to sign the agreement is not the entity that actually owns the property over which I need the easement.  (They have sole signing authority for the entity they claim owns the property but need other partner signatures if it=92s the other entity.)

While I have good reason not to trust them, I very much need this easement. What happens if we sign the easement agreement and it turns out that the entity that signed is not the owner?  Are there criminal or civil penalties for that kind of thing?”

The short answer is yes, in most jurisdictions at least, purposely signing on behalf of the wrong entity would be fraud.  But keep in mind the term purposely; if it’s just a mistake, that would be different.

This is definitely a situation where you’d be best off engaging in some defensive prevention up front.  Check the title records, or have someone check them for you, before any documents get signed so you know what entity is the record owner of the property.

If you’re in an area where title insurance is available, get it. It will increase the up-front cost slightly, but then if the easement isn’t valid, it becomes the insurer’s problem.

Finally, you could try to negotiate that the person provide a personal guarantee on behalf of the entity that’s signing.  Guarantees are only as good as the signer’s ability to pay, but it’s better than nothing.