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What Is a Sewer Easement?

By Christy Bieber
Updated May 16, 2024
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A sewer easement is a special type of property ownership that allows a person the right to place a sewer on a small piece of land owned by someone else. Sewer easements are common because often a homeowner or property owner will need to run a sewer line through someone's property in order to have access to the public sewer line. Without a sewer easement, it might be impossible to connect the sewer lines to public sewers, making the property that cannot access the sewer far less valuable.

An easement, in general, is a formal legal term that means a right of passage is granted. When a person owns land, they normally own the full rights to that land, and can prevent other people from passing through or using it. An easement grants another person partial access to a portion of that land for a specific purpose, without the owner's permission.

An easement can be purchased or given. Formal easements can be created by signing a document vesting legal rights in the easement to the person who builds the sewer. An easement can also be created by implication; for example, if one party has been using a driveway on someone else's land for the past thirty years, he or she may have an implied easement to continue using that driveway.

When there is a formal easement, such as a sewer easement, the person who buys the property that the sewer easement is on, buys it with that easement attached. This is extremely helpful to the person who needs the sewer easement. If a homeowner needs to go through his neighbor's yard to reach a public sewer line, it is important to establish a formal written sewer easement that gives him the legal right to have the sewer on the neighbor's property.

If the party requiring the easement does not have a formal easement, but his sewer happens to be on his neighbor's property, he could potentially have problems when the property owner sells the house. If a new buyer purchases the house and does not want the sewer to run through his land, the new owner could demand that the sewer owner remove the sewer line from the property if there is no easement. If there is an easement, however, that easement goes with the property when they buy it, since the sewer owner legally owns the right to run that sewer line through the land.

Can I Build Over a Sewer Easement?

Given that a sewer easement provides legal rights to use, access, and possess the sewer line that runs underground through the easement area but not the land above it, the landowner can still build over it because he still owns the land above. Any landowner planning to build over a sewer easement should do so with caution though. If anything happens to damage the sewer line during the construction, the landowner would usually be liable for that damage. The owner of the sewer line easement could potentially and legally demand that the landowner fix any damage to the sewer line at the landowner's expense.

After the build is completed, the landowner still has to provide access to the owner of the sewer line. If the sewer line malfunctions, needs maintenance or repairs, or the sewer line's owner wishes to make a change to the line, the owner still has the right to access the line regardless of what might be constructed over it. The landowner who built the structure over the sewer line may have to endure the destruction of all or part of the construction so that the necessary people can access the line. For example, if the landowner builds a garden shed over the sewer line and the sewer line needs repairs, the sewer line maintenance team might have to make a hole in or fully remove the shed's floor to access the line. Generally, maintenance teams will try to do the least damage possible, but it might be unavoidable. At this point, the landowner and sewer line owner will have to discuss who is responsible for paying for what. In these situations, the landowner often ends up the responsible party.

Can a Road Be Paved Over a Sewer Easement?

Just like a landowner can build over a sewer easement, a road or driveway can also be paved over a sewer easement. The same risks and issues apply to a road as a structure over a sewer easement. If any sewer line maintenance is required, the maintenance crew may need to rip up the pavement to access the line. Many times, sewer maintenance crews will replace any destroyed sections of pavement with gravel instead of repaving them. Generally, these sewer maintenance crews are only responsible for creating a safe, usable space on top of the line once the work is finished. Often, they are not required to return it to its original form, especially for aesthetic purposes only, as pavement would be considered. Therefore, if the pavement's owner wishes to repave, it will likely be at his own expense.

How Much Is a Sewer Easement Worth?

Unfortunately, there is no set amount to what a sewer easement is worth. The value depends on a variety of factors. Firstly, the sewer easement might be "priceless" to the easement user. It might be a necessity that the sewer user needs and thus has to pay for it no matter the price. Secondly, a landowner who does not use the sewer line may feel like the inconvenience is not at all worth it, so no price is ever high enough. Regularly, sewer easements, like most utility easements, are worth less than the land they occupy because easements are not land ownership but only rights to use the land. Some municipalities and utility companies might pay a small, usually one-time, stipend to the landowner for the easement. This particularly happens if the landowner does not use the utility, which is often the case with a sewer line easement. The users of sewer easements might also be charged an additional amount as part of their bill for having and using the sewer line and any necessary easements for accessing it.

FAQ on Sewer Easement

What is a sewer easement?

A sewer easement is a legal right granted by a property owner to a municipality or utility company, allowing them to use a specific portion of the property for installing, maintaining, or repairing sewer lines. This easement ensures that the necessary infrastructure can be accessed without the need for property acquisition, facilitating public health and sanitation services.

How does a sewer easement affect property owners?

Property owners with a sewer easement on their land must allow access to the easement area for the purposes outlined in the agreement. While they retain ownership, they may face restrictions on building, landscaping, or altering the easement area to ensure the sewer system remains accessible and functional. It's important to review the specific terms of the easement for any limitations.

Can a sewer easement be removed or relocated?

Removing or relocating a sewer easement typically requires agreement from the utility company or municipality that holds the easement. It may involve legal processes and negotiations, and the property owner may incur costs associated with the relocation. Approval is not guaranteed and depends on the feasibility and impact on the sewer system's operation.

Are property owners compensated for granting a sewer easement?

Compensation for a sewer easement depends on the circumstances under which it is granted. If an easement is established during property development, compensation may be factored into the sale price or development agreement. In cases where an easement is requested after a property is owned, the property owner may negotiate compensation for the granted rights.

What should a property owner do if they're approached about a sewer easement?

If approached about granting a sewer easement, property owners should carefully review the proposed agreement and consult with a real estate attorney to understand the implications. They should consider the easement's impact on property value, usage, and future development plans. Negotiating terms that protect the owner's interests, such as compensation or specific maintenance commitments, is advisable before agreeing to the easement.

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Discussion Comments

By anon358563 — On Dec 11, 2013

When a town or a city is given an easement for sewers, does that include individual connections or does every lot in that subdivision need an individual easement from the owner of the land that the sewer is running through?

By anon276148 — On Jun 22, 2012

I purchased a home in 1996 on 3/10 of an acre with a recorded sewer easement from 1972. A cop purchased ground in 2004 where my easement is on and he has locked me off the property by constructing a fence and gate. He said he wanted me to fix the sewer, then locked me out and turned it over to the Health Department. I've been in court for the past three years fighting for my easement and the courts are siding with his lies!

By anon270253 — On May 21, 2012

A title search of the property (costs about $16 online) will show any easements.

By FebFM10 — On Jun 06, 2011

@bhiver - I would think that a survey of the house could provide you with that information. When builders are getting ready to build a home (in the city, anyway), they are required to provide a copy of the site or plat plan to the building office in that city, which has the easements on it for that lot. The local building office for your city may be able to provide you with a copy of the plat or site plan for the home in question.

By Bhiver — On Jun 06, 2011

So if I'm getting ready to buy a home, how can I find out if it's got a property easement on it?

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