Property Owners' Rights and Utility Easements

By Ronna L. DeLoe, Esq.

Property Owners' Rights and Utility Easements

By Ronna L. DeLoe, Esq.

Property owners will want to know whether there's a utility easement on their land, and, if so, what their property owners' rights actually are.

As the property owner, you could have several types of utility lines running under or over your land, such as electric or gas lines. If these lines exist, a utility company can access them if there's a problem, even if that means going onto your property to do so. In other cases, utilities may have a specific right, granted by your deed, to use a corridor on your property—usually on a boundary line or near the property's perimeter—to set up utility poles, lines, or towers.

Here's what you need to know.

Utility Easements on Property

You may have many utility lines leading to your house for certain services. Some of these may include lines, pipes, dishes, meters, or tanks for:

  • Electricity
  • Gas
  • Propane
  • Sewer
  • Water
  • Telephone
  • Internet and cable television
  • Satellite television companies
  • New utilities as technology changes

If you have any of these, you have an easement because the companies can access your property, for example, to fix a broken water pipe or electric power lines that fell in a storm. As the property owner, you're giving these companies the right to come onto your property to maintain and repair these lines or pipes. You own the land, but they have the right to use your land to access their equipment.

Utility easements are usually written into your deed. If you're not sure if there's an easement on your property, it's best to do a title search to find out. A utility easement will transfer with the land, or "run with the land"—that is, if you sell your house, the next owner buys your house and land with the easement on it. Sometimes there's nothing in writing showing a utility easement, but an easement is usually implied when you buy a house that comes with running water, cable, electricity or gas, and other utilities.

Occasionally, property owners buy a home with towers at the edge of their property. These are usually towers connected to each other by power lines. If you see these massive towers on the property, check your deed to see if this specific easement is in writing.

Property Owners' Rights

Property owners have rights regarding their utility easements. The property owner owns the land with the easement and must pay taxes on the easement area. Usually, the utility companies don't pay anything for the use of the easement.

The utility company has the right to use the land to maintain and repair their lines, pipes, or equipment. Property owners, however, can take a utility company to court if a company abuses the easement.

If, for example, a utility company enters your property to read the water meter, and in the process destroys landscaping, you can sue for damages. You also can seek an injunction or restraining order to ensure that the utility accesses the meter without destroying your property.

In many cases, though, unless the utility was negligent or willfully destroyed property, the property owner bears the cost of replacing their landscaping or whatever the utility destroyed. Sometimes it helps to get an attorney to bargain with the company instead of bringing them to court, especially if it's a small or municipal company, as they may want to settle rather than be sued.

Utility Companies' Rights

Property owners have the right to use the land as they see fit, including the easement area, so long as they're not obstructing the easement itself. For example, if there's a written easement for a company to use a small corridor along your property to access its equipment in the back, you can't build anything on it or obstruct that corridor. If you do, the utility company can remove the obstruction or even destroy it if it interferes with the easement.

That doesn't mean you can't build a fence, or plant shrubs or flowers along the border, so long as they don't interfere with the utility companies' access to their equipment. Remember that your deed permits utility companies to access it whenever needed so that they can take you to court—they can ask the judge for an injunction to stop you from blocking entry onto your property—for violating the easement.

While some easements expire, utility easements usually don't. It's important to get a title search or check with the local land records department for the property you want to buy to determine whether there's a utility easement on it. If there is, make sure it's something you can live with, as sometimes repairs or maintenance could take days or even weeks.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.