Access Rights

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.

What are Access Rights?

Access usually refers to access from a public road or right-of-way, and may include pedestrian or vehicular access.  Property owners usually need access to and from a public road.  Property cannot be used and enjoyed unless the owner can get to the property.  In addition, access from public roads enhances a parcel’s value and utility. 

How are Access Rights Created?

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, although that access may be restricted or eliminated to promote traffic safety. 

May Access From a Public Road be Restricted?

A state or local road authority may restrict or eliminate access from a public road, without compensation to the owner, 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 the safe and efficient flow of traffic.  In some limited circumstances, restricting access may require compensation, because no reasonable alternative access exists. 

What if the Change in Access Impacts a Business or is Inconvenient?

Loss of direct business access or inconvenience in access are not compensable, 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.

What if a Parcel is “Landlocked” Without Access to a Public Road?

If a parcel can only be accessed by crossing another parcel (either privately or publicly owned), it is said to be “landlocked.”  An access roadway may be established through agreement, or by a prescriptive or implied easement. The Utah Code states that eminent domain may be used to acquire a roadway from a highway to a residence or farm.  In some circumstances, even private companies may use eminent domain to acquire access roads needed for mining, oil exploration, logging, or railroads. See  Utah Code § 78B-6-501. If eminent domain is used, the property owners would be obligated to pay compensation to the owner whose property is being taken for the roadway. 

Go to Easements

Is a Property Owner Entitled to Access Across Publicly Owned Property?

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. 

Cases on Access Rights

Carrier v. Lindquist–Abutting landowners have right of access to public road

The Carpet Barn v. UDOT–Compensation for loss of access rights and parking area

Three D Corp. v. Salt Lake City–Impairment of access may entitle property owner to compensation

UDOT v. Harvey Real Estate–Right of access from public street, compensation for loss of access

RETURN to Legal Topics Section