NOTE: This summary is very simplified, and is provided for informational purposes. Any questions on this topic should be directed to The Office of the Property Rights Ombudsman.
Access usually refers to access from a public road, and may include both pedestrian and vehicle access. Property owners need access to and from a public road. Property cannot be used and enjoyed unless the owner can get to it. In addition, access from public roads enhances a parcel’s value and utility.
Access rights may be created by express agreement, by implication or prescription, and, in some circumstances, acquired through eminent domain. Any property along a public road is presumed to have a right of access to and from that road.
Access from a public road may be restricted, as long as a reasonable alternative access exists. Access may be limited to a single point, or moved to a new point, if necessary for traffic safety. If no reasonable alternative exists, restricting access may require compensation.
A change in access does not require compensation, as long as the property has reasonable access to and from a public road. There is no property right in traffic flow passing a business, and no right to compensation if access is temporarily impacted due to a construction project.
If property may only be accessed by crossing another parcel, it is said to be “landlocked.” An access roadway may be established through agreement, or by a prescriptive or implied easement. See “Easements.”
In some circumstances, private companies may use eminent domain to acquire access roads needed for mining, oil exploration, logging, or utilities. See Utah Code § 78B-6-501 . If eminent domain is used, the affected property owners would be entitled to compensation.
Access across publicly owned property (federal, state, or local) that is not a highway is not an automatic right, even if no other access exists. The right to cross public lands may be granted by the government, or established through the operation of law.
Carrier v. Lindquist, 2001 UT 105 - Landowners whose property abuts public streets, alleys, and public ways that appear on a plat map are entitled to a private easement over those public ways.
The Carpet Barn v. UDOT, 786 P.2d 770 (Utah Ct. App. 1988) - The right of access is an easement appurtenant to land of an abutting owner on a street, and constitutes a property right which may not be taken without just compensation.
Three D Corp. v. Salt Lake City, 752 P.2d 1321 (Utah Ct. App. 1988) - Substantial and material impairment of a property owner’s right of access can constitute a compensable taking.
UDOT v. Harvey Real Estate, 2002 UT 107 - The right of access does not include right to travel in any particular direction from one’s property or upon any particular part of the highway right-of-way, nor right to existing public traffic on the highway.