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Easements and Angle of Repose: What Are They and Why Do You Need to Know?

When you are purchasing a block of land to build a home on, there are technical terms such as easements, angle of repose, and area of influence that professionals in the building industry understand well.  You may be inclined to leave these complexities to the engineers, conveyancers and your builder, but this is a mistake. When you educate yourself on the basic factors that affect a block, this puts you in a far stronger position with vendors and potential builders, as well as helping you to determine your options.  You must know where the easements are on your own block and neighbouring blocks in order to determine where you can build. 

What exactly is an Easement?  An Easement is an area where services are provided in ground. Everyone needs to have access to storm water and sewage.  These are gravity fed, so sewerage and storm water are parallel.  Because service lines are large diameter pipes, they are buried deep in the ground.

The Angle of Repose is a term used in Geology.  It describes the effect of surface disturbance through soil.  Upturned soil will slump to approximately 45 degrees, although this varies for different types of soil.

The Area of Influence is the area that has been effected by disturbing the soil, when placing the services. 

Why do you need to know? If a service pipe is buried two metres in the ground, and the centre of the pipe is 1.5 metres in from the boundary, the foundation has to go through the area of influence. It has to go under the angle of repose.  Otherwise, the weight of the house or the garage pushing down on the disturbed soil could dislodge the pipe and also jeopardize the structural integrity of the building. Foundations start at the angle of repose.  This enormously affects excavation costs and the costs of concrete for foundations and/or retaining walls.

Not every block will have easements, but more often than not, there is a rear easement.  Blocks back onto each other generally, so the easements will most often run along the back of one property.  When in the rear, it generally won’t cause problems with building. 

Be careful of Side Boundary easements.  Typically blocks are rectangular, narrow and long, so the impact can be far greater with a side easement.  A big pipe, buried in a deep hole creates a 2 – 3 meter exclusion zone and it can go beyond that.  The exclusion zone can actually be more than the easement!  Even if you have a block of land that doesn’t have easement, but your neighbour does, IT CAN EFFECT YOU!

Establish how deep the services are buried.  Buyers often think that when they are buying in a flat area rather than on a steep or sloping block, that the site costs will be less.  However, in flat land the services are often buried 4 ½ to 5 metres deep and may be a metre in diameter.  Suddenly, the area of influence is enormous. 

When you are looking to buy a block, and preferably before you put any money down, get a copy of the Plan of Subdivision (POS).  This will be contained within the  Section 32, or Vendor’s Statement of the Land Contract.  This document must contain every bit of known information regarding that land; it is treated reverently in law.  It will include a copy of the Engineering Plan, which will show location of driveways and as much as is known of the location and depth of services (easements).  Whether you are considering buying a block of land or have already done so, have it in hand.  Make a copy to present to a prospective builder. 

Use the knowledge you have gained to familiarise yourself with the essential information.  Draw a diagram of the general shape of the block.   The convention for describing a block of land is to imagine that you are standing on the front street looking into the block.  Establish the area:  the width of the frontage, the width of the rear boundary, and the length of each side.  Detail in the easements as shown in the POS or Land Contract, and consider what this means to where you can build. 

Does a potential lot suit your needs?  Will you be able to negotiate better terms?  What will the impact be on your home design?  Now that you have a basic understanding of the terms: easement, angle of repose, and area of influence, you will be in a much stronger position to answer these questions. 

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