Considerations on Buying Outside a Municipality in Idaho

Within a municipality with residential one- to four-unit zoning for parcels created by a platted subdivision, easements are typically referenced, access by public or private road is required, zoning is well-defined, and water, sewer, and power are usually provided. Buyers typically do not have problems with real property purchases of this type.

Outside of a municipality, perform your due diligence:

  • Essential services. In other States, a public entity like a county or city is typically responsible for providing roads, water, sewer, fire, police protection, and sometimes power. In Idaho, these services may be provided by public or private entities. If public, services are usually handled by individual districts, i.e., water districts, road districts, sewer districts. The exception to this rule is some municipalities that have centralized the provision of services within its limits. Take the time to find out how services are provided to your land to determine whether such provision will be satisfactory.
  • Survey. Unless there was a subdivision of a larger parcel and you can find the monument corners for your subject parcel, a ground survey or drone mapping flyover is recommended as a contingency of a purchase contract. A ground survey will determine the true boundaries of the parcel, rather than relying on alleged markers like hedges or fences, which frequently are not accurate representations. A drone mapping flyover will allow analysis of topographic and other features.
  • Zoning. Regardless of the parcel’s zoning, you need to know what is allowed, including conditional uses, and whether a variance may be required for your planned use. Visit your county planning department for zoning information.
  • Septic. If your parcel needs septic wastewater treatment onsite, you may need percolation testing. If there are significant rock outcroppings or other obstructions to provision of an underground septic system, particularly with drainage fields (primary and backup) but also with piping, significant additional expense may be determinative of your purchase decision. It may help to check with your potential neighbors for their experience with their land. Oral representations should be gathered as a first step, but never should be the deciding factor in your purchase decision.
  • Water. Water rights in Idaho are gained by diverting water from a natural source to a beneficial use, and whether diversion is from surface water or from a well a permit is required from the Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR). If there is a well on your prospective parcel, you will need to contact IDWR for the well driller’s information. The issuance of a permit for a water right is a constitutional right in Idaho, and only injury to existing water rights can prevent or curtail the amount of water allowed to be diverted for a specific permit application. The priority of use in Idaho is “first in time, first in right.” In North Idaho, water shortages are generally not a problem, due to our position near the Continental Divide. Vacant parcels not served by an existing diversion will likely have no water rights, so don’t look for or expect them.
  • Special needs. Be sure to account for special needs for your planned use, such as physical accommodations for handicapped persons or assessment of public school education.
  • Sexual offenders. There is a publicly-accessible sex offender registry in Idaho, so you can plan for your family’s safety.

This posting is not legal advice. Legal advice is based on specific facts. This information is necessarily general in nature. 

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