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What Is a Utility Easement?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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As a property owner, it's crucial to understand what a utility easement entails. This legal provision grants utility companies the right to use designated sections of land for maintenance and service lines. According to the National Association of Realtors, easements are prevalent in real estate transactions, affecting a significant number of properties . 

Ensuring clarity, easements are meticulously outlined in property deeds, enduring through successive ownerships. Prospective buyers are advised to conduct thorough title searches to uncover any such easements, as they can impact property use and value.

Utilities can request an easement for any number of reasons. A classic example of a utility easement is an easement which allows the power company to run electrical lines along a property, and to install utility poles if the property is long enough that the lines cannot pass over the property without support. The utility has the right to utilize a strip of land for the lines, and to enter the land to access the lines for maintenance and repair, which can include tree trimming, replacing rotted utility poles, and so forth.

Other utilities such as water and sewer companies, gas companies, and phone companies may request utility easements. For the utility, crossing land is often easier and cheaper than going around it, and if an easement deal can be worked out, it will save the utility money in the future. In other cases, a utility needs to cross private property to bring services to someone else, as for example when a lot is split in two and the back house needs access to water, power, gas, and so forth. Without an easement, the utility would not be able to guarantee provision of services.

When property is split or lot lines are readjusted, utilities may take an interest because the change may require a utility easement to address concerns about accessibility to utilities. Likewise, when land is being newly developed, easements may be put in place to accommodate the need for roads, utilities, drainage, and so forth.

Having an easement gives the utility the right to use the land, but the utility does not own it. However, the property owner may encounter certain restrictions on land use in an area covered by a utility easement. For example, if a power company has a utility easement, the property owner cannot plant tall trees in the area of the easement, because they could interfere with the power lines. Likewise, a swimming pool could not be dug out where there is a buried gas line.

How Wide Is a Utility Easement?

A utility easement's width is a unique characteristic of each separate easement. The width of the sewage board's easement on your neighbor's property might be a completely different width and shape than the easement on your property.

The current shape and size of a utility easement are not necessarily written in stone. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in previous cases that easements can be edited by the owner as long as the subservient entity approves the edit and agrees the continued business of the utility will go unhindered.

If you purchase some land and discover that a utility company is accessing a part of your property that interferes with your operations unnecessarily, then you have the right to reconstruct an easement map that changes the area, shape and size of the easement. The newly mapped easement needs to be approved by the utility and entered into the record for all future property deeds. A real estate attorney can assist with this sort of change.

How Close Can You Build to a Utility Easement?

Not only can you build near an easement, but you can build right on top of an easement. It isn't exactly a smart idea, however. If you build a fence, for example, and part of the fence runs through an access easement that you didn't know about, then the entity with legal use of the easement can legally have your fence removed from that spot.

When you purchase a new home or a plot of land, the title should have the current easements documented with specificity. Older easements might not have as accurate of a description anymore. Always ask the real estate agents during the property closing where the easements are located if you aren't already aware. This ensures that you don't build a fence across an active easement.

Some homeowners who are aware of easements on their property get creative about how they build on top of them. If there's an underground easement for a gas pipe that runs under a homeowner's backyard, for example, opting for an above-ground pool is a good compromise. In the event of the utility company needing access to the pipe, the pool can more easily be moved than a below-ground pool.

Can I Refuse a Utility Easement?

Not only utility companies but nearby property owners or businesses with interests in the area may ask you for an easement to get on or through your property for some type of reason. Sometimes there is money involved to sweeten the deal, but not always. As a property owner, you are not obligated to agree to the easement.

In the case of a utility concern, if there are other properties nearby that could grant the same access, they may agree to the utility easement after you don't. If the utility further pushes the case, citing the necessity to get on your particular property for a particular reason, you may need a real estate lawyer to defend your position. The state could get involved on the utility's behalf, but then eminent domain laws might come into play.

In some cases, you may be more than happy to grant an easement. For example, if you own a deep lot with no road access in the rear and you build a home on that rear section, you probably want to give an access easement for a driveway so the newly built house has street access. That new easement will be recorded on your property title, and if you ever sell your home, the new owner will adopt the access easement.

FAQ on Utility Easement

What is a utility easement and why is it important?

A utility easement is a legal right that allows a utility company to access and use a portion of another property owner's land for the purpose of constructing and maintaining utilities like electricity, water, sewer, or gas lines. It's important because it ensures that essential services can be provided to communities efficiently. Without easements, the installation and repair of utility infrastructure could be significantly hindered, potentially disrupting services to homes and businesses.

How does a utility easement affect property owners?

Property owners with a utility easement on their land must allow access to the utility company for maintenance and service needs. While the land remains the property owner's, the easement can limit how they use that portion of their property. For example, they may not be able to build structures, plant certain types of vegetation, or install fences that would obstruct access to the utility. However, they can still use the land in ways that don't interfere with the easement.

Can a utility easement be removed or relocated?

Utility easements are typically permanent, but they can sometimes be removed or relocated if both the property owner and the utility company agree. This process often requires legal action and negotiation, as the utility company's needs must still be met. According to the American Bar Association, easement modifications usually require a new deed or easement agreement to be drafted and recorded to reflect the changes.

How is a utility easement established?

A utility easement is established through a written agreement between a property owner and a utility company, which is then recorded with the local government, usually in the county recorder's office. This agreement specifies the location of the easement and the rights of the utility company. In some cases, easements may be established by necessity or through eminent domain if an agreement cannot be reached and the easement is deemed necessary for public service.

What should I do if I'm buying a property with a utility easement?

If you're considering buying a property with a utility easement, it's crucial to understand the terms of the easement and how it might affect your use of the property. You should review the easement documents, which can typically be obtained from the local land records office. It's also wise to consult with a real estate attorney who can explain the implications of the easement and advise on any potential issues. Knowing the exact location and restrictions of the easement can help you make an informed decision about the property purchase.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Jhop — On Feb 09, 2019

Is the city responsible to replace our fence they removed from my property when they put in water and sewer lines on the back of our yard?

By anon994455 — On Feb 10, 2016

I don't know if this discussion is still current, but a couple of weeks ago I received a letter in the mail stating the City's intention to run a new sewer line right through the middle of my front yard. They intend to take down two 50-plus year old Maple trees, which serve as a buffer between my house and the (rather busy) road that I live on, and claim the 15' between said trees (and the sewer line) and the (busy) road I live on as a "permanent utility easement," which means I can use the land, and it will still be technically part of my yard, but it will decrease my property acreage by however many square feet on the home title when I try to sell it and I will not be allowed to replant any trees of reasonable size to replace the ones they are taking down, as it might interfere with their new sewer line. I'm not sure why they had no problem with the existing sewer line and the trees that have been there since (or probably before) my house was built in 1950.

There are two things that offset the fact that I do live on a busy road and make it a still decent place to live, and why I have kept this home for 12 years now: the first is the fact that my house is set back reasonably far from said road so you can still sit on the front porch and not be right next to busy traffic; the second is that I have two big beautiful 50-plus year old trees between the house and the road that provide a buffer and shade (and it looks pretty).

The city already took 10' of easement two years ago to widen the road, which I was very agreeable about, despite a little angst about losing 10' of my nice deep front yard at that time. They tore up my yard with equipment and then replanted the part they tore up (which had been beautiful mature established nice grass) with something that quickly grew 3' tall and has the consistency of hay. Then they left these long bolsters of hay and string along the edge of where they planted - held in place by wooden horses - and just simply left them there. They never came back to retrieve those or finish the job and I finally took them down myself after a month or two - by this time those hay bolsters had killed a 2.5-3' swath of grass between the hay they planted and my pretty grass. So now I have (starting from the paved road) Hay->Bald Stripe->my original pretty grass along the front edge of my yard.

I'm ready to simply sell the house and get out of there, but I am primarily concerned about what this is going to do to the value of my home when I go to sell it. They want to do this in the spring (which is when I wanted to sell it), and they are offering me $6,000 to take half of my front yard and cut down my huge, nice trees. I doubt that $6K will compensate for the hit to "curb appeal" and loss of acreage (not to mention the fact that there will now be a permanent easement that the city owns on fully half my front yard).

Any advice on this? I'm looking for some way to calculate what the loss will be to the value of my home by having the plot re-written to whatever the new square footage is after they take their easement (it was .73 acres when I purchased/financed the house) and removing the lovely shady trees and forbidding me from replacing them (which will detract from the nice front yard I have). My house was appraised for refinancing about three years ago and appraised at over $150K, but with a bald, ugly front yard I can't imagine it will be as appealing to look at from the front - plus it will be hotter in the summertime without that shade.

By anon945610 — On Apr 14, 2014

I came home to find a company cut a private boundary fence to put in another pole, but put it on my property without my knowledge or consent.

I had indemnity insurance when I purchased my home and no easement is registered on my property.

Nothing can be grandfathered, according to my lawyers. All easements need to be registered. This second pole houses no wiring and I wasn't home when the company decided to put it on my property and destroy my boundary fence.

Legal action is the only solution. CCTS confirmed that I do not have an easement. Are there any other solutions?

By anon926405 — On Jan 18, 2014

People, go talk to a lawyer.

By my4boysmom — On Oct 05, 2013

We are considering buying a piece of property that has an electric easement on the side of the property 12 feet down to the end of the property. We want to put a well in and it states that you can't drill within the limits of said easement. If I'm 100 feet from the easement, can I have a well drilled? Before I pay a lawyer for something I don't own yet, I would rather not pay the money for it if it is not an option.

The other thing it states is that, in the judgment of the company you would need to remove bushes, shrubs and trees endangering the construction and operation of said lines. This prevents you from doing anything. It's crazy in a way, if you can't make your back yard look nice and put a fence around it. They shouldn't have unlimited access to your land for a small easement. Do they have the right to tell you what to do with what is outside of the easement?

By anon347421 — On Sep 06, 2013

Can pool equipment be on an easement? I am under the impression that it can be but if the county needs to get to the easement it would be my responsibility to move it.

By fnemes — On Jul 16, 2013

We wish to move our septic field under an electrical utility easement on our property which states we cannot build structures under the power line on the easement granted to them "reserving, however, unto the grantor the right to cultivate or otherwise use the said land".

Do I need the permission from the utility company to place a septic field which will be located so as to not interfere with the maintenance of the said power lines?

By anon338614 — On Jun 15, 2013

We have a six foot easement along our backyard fence. This was for phone, hydro and cable. In 1986 all three utilities moved their cables to the front of our property. There is nothing in the rear yard now. In 1998 we had the property surveyed and the easement was still in effect. We now want to put in an in ground pool. The city bylaws state five feet from property and not over an easement. How do remove the easement from the property?

By anon315633 — On Jan 24, 2013

I purchased a piece of property from the back tax sale back in 2001, and now I am ready to build a house or church on it. I found out that, because of the utility easement, I do not have enough space left to build anything on it.

I have had several meetings with the zoning committee in my city to try to find out what I could put on the property or how I could use the land. What they are telling me is the land is useless. The only thing I can do is to continue to pay the property taxes. I also tried to sell it back to the city, but they did not want it. Is there anything I can do about this problem? Please help.

By anon312920 — On Jan 09, 2013

I have a Bell Canada easement in my back yard, directly in the center at the rear of the yard. I noticed today that there is another huge pole lying across my backyard, to signify they are going to be replacing the existing one. I called and requested that it be moved into a corner of the yard. Can I legally demand them to do so? I am not a Bell customer, and I don't mind it being on my property, but I do not want it being the focal point of my yard either. Help.

By anon292784 — On Sep 21, 2012

The phone company technician told us to trim the tree around the telephone pole. Otherwise, they will trim the tree and send us the bill. Can the phone company do so? The Easement law allows the phone company to enter the land to access the lines for maintenance and repair, which can include tree trimming, and so forth. We have owned this private property for 25 years. This is the first time we got this unreasonable verbal threat. Can they do so, and what shall we do?

By anon290554 — On Sep 10, 2012

We bought property, built a house, and signed an easement to put power on the property. The power company is wanting to put poles on my property for a fan for a coal mine down the road.

Does the easement I signed for my residential power give them the right to put the poles in even if I don't want them to? It will take out my trees that block my property.

By anon288230 — On Aug 29, 2012

I have a private property and the easement has been covered with sand (Act of God). The other owner has a private property in front of my property and there is no way into my property.

They do not want to allow any other access for me to my back lot property. Is there any law covering this?

By anon272546 — On Jun 01, 2012

I have sewer lines running though my back yard and they are replacing the main lines. After they are done, it's my property to do with as I please, right? For instance plant trees back and so forth.

By anon257245 — On Mar 26, 2012

In a prescriptive easement, can the land owner stop a power company from going from a single phase to a three-phase? (Which means more ugly lines) I'm creating an off-the-grid homestead and the lines will be going over my driveway and gardens, and I feel this will devalue my property. Help. They're coming soon.

By anon255948 — On Mar 20, 2012

How far away does a fence have to be from a utility pole that is very close to the property line?

By anon253796 — On Mar 10, 2012

I lease a lot in a mobile home park, and the utility company has a transformer on my leased lot within 15 feet of my bedroom. I was told 10 years ago and two years ago it would be moved. The community also has said they would move other park components from my leased lot. I have had no response from anyone. There is no easement.

Do I have a claim for "loss of use" of my back yard and is the transformer in code violation (Palm Beach County) for being too close to my dwelling?

By anon248906 — On Feb 19, 2012

Can someone make you move the drains to build on it? For example, move the drains from the back to the front of the house for an extension?

By anon229917 — On Nov 16, 2011

No, you cannot place a swing set on an easement. We're being forced to move our kid's swing set, storage building and dog pen.

By anon169734 — On Apr 22, 2011

Can a big swing set put on the easement?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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