Why you need to check for road access when buying land

It is important to check if the land you are buying has an access road because you might be left at the mercy of your neighbour. Photo by David S. Mukooza

What you need to know:

Did you know there is so much you cannot do without an access road on your land? Fred Nyanzi, a physical planner at Buganda Land Board, explains why it is important to have an access road and what to do if you find yourself without an access road.

If you have ever searched for land to buy, chances are that you have come across adverts that mention road access.
Unfortunately, very few people pay attention to this and not many understand the importance of road access in land acquisition.
While a large piece of land, especially for agricultural purposes, may not necessarily require clearly defined access roads, in the vast majority of cases, especially for residential purposes, you will want to buy a plot of land that has road access.

What is an access road?
An access road is a type of pathway providing a means of entry into a property from the main road. This access may be in the form of deeded access, or un-deeded access.
Deeded access is when a written agreement with adjoining landowners allows you to traverse the road to your own land. In most cases, this agreement has to be signed by all parties and resultantly noted on their titles for legal purposes as a right of way. Land that has deeded access is not a problem for potential buyers.

Many people believe an access road is automatically provided to every piece of land, but this cannot be farther from the truth. Many properties are do not have access roads and they are technically classified as landlocked. If you have a landlocked property, it means that you have to gain access to your land from someone else by crossing over their property line. This happens depending on the willingness of that other person to allow you use their property to gain access to yours.
If you find yourself in such a scenario, it means many things, which include:
You cannot legally subdivide your land, which means you will not be able to legally develop your land because the local government will not approve a plan without an access road.

The limitations
Land management organisations such as Buganda Land Board will limit transactions on your property, mainly because of the two points above.
Lenders are less likely to provide you with capital to develop the land or invest to grow your business. Utility companies (water and electricity) will not be able to connect your property to their networks.
Because of the above encumbrances, your land can hardly be sold to anyone other than your neighbour, at which point, the value would reduce by more than half the value of surrounding land.

When you find yourself without an access road, it is common for a neighbour, through a gentleman’s agreement, to let you access your land through their land, otherwise known as un-deeded access. Such arrangements (gentleman’s agreements) carry risks. For instance, if your neighbour dies, sells their property, or simply changes their mind over a misunderstanding, you may lose this access. In unfortunate cases, your neighbour may legally refuse to grant you permission (deeded or un-deeded) through their property. Because access is very important, in some countries it is illegal for a person to landlock their neighbour.

When neighbour denies access
In Uganda’s situation, in cases where a neighbour refuses, through negotiations, to provide access, you can apply to a land tribunal with jurisdiction in your area, using the Access to Roads Act 1969 for leave to construct a road through your neighbour’s property.

The land tribunal may do the following:
Grant an access road of not more than six metres wide; require you to compensate the uncooperative neighbour; or require the district survey office to register the order on your neighbour’s title within three months (at a fee).
It may also allow you to install utilities (power, and water) on the road; require the neighbour to allow you and all your people to use the road; and/or require you to maintain it. If you find yourself in a landlocked situation, lawyers and planners at Buganda Land Board are available to help you go through the process above.