How to Find Easement Information on a Property

What Are Utility Easements?

An easement is the right to use part of a property without owning it. A deed should describe all of a property’s public and private usage rights, which is typically provided to property owners upon the purchase of a property.

Utility easements are one of the most common types of easements for private property, which generally allow public utility companies access to the property for the purpose of installing, repairing and maintaining utility lines. These include: overhead electric, telephone and television lines and underground electric, water, sewer, telephone, and cable lines. They exist because it’s significantly more efficient for utility companies to run lines in straight through neighborhoods rather than around individual parcels of land. Public and private services are both available for locating underground utility lines, depending on the nature of the easement.

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How Can a Utility Easement Impact a Building Project?

In practice, utility easements are a much bigger issue on small, urban-sized lots than larger rural properties. The reason boils down to available space and community needs. Because most rural properties don’t have access to municipally supplied water, sewage removal or privatized natural gas for heating, there’s no reason for utility easements to exist for these utilities.

That’s not to say rural properties have no utility easements. Even in the country, power companies can enter your property, trim trees, install new poles and dig up old power lines. The difference is, large rural lots give you a whole lot more space to build well away from the area set aside for an easement.

The downside of the rural setting is that you’re often on your own figuring out how to get water, heat your home and deal with sewage. If you’d rather pick a smaller property that’s closer to civilization, you’ll need to be more careful concerning utility easements.

Figure out exactly which part of the property the easement has set aside for a possible sidewalk, additional electrical poles or underground lines, water pipes and any other utility work. Don’t build there! Pick a spot well away from the designated easement area to start construction, so you and future owners of your new property won’t be disturbed or risk damage to one or more of your buildings.

Determining Whether There’s an Easement on Property

Before buying property, it’s important to hire a real estate attorney to help you check if there’s an easement on the property or do it yourself.

To check for an easement on the property, you can take the following steps:

  1. Contact the utility companies to see if they have any easements on your property.
  2. Check with the county clerk or county land records office to find out whether the prior deed shows an easement.
  3. Obtain a survey of the property to see if there are any easements and where they’re located.
  4. Get a title company to do a title search of the property, which will uncover any easements and other burdens on the property.
  5. Make sure to get a warranty deed from the owner, as it must show any easements on the property.

If there’s an easement on the property, it’s usually listed on your deed. You’ll want to check if you’re the easement user, known as the dominant property, or if you’re the property owner who must allow your neighbor to use your property, known as the servient property.

The servient property owner cannot block the use of the easement.

Electric and natural gas distribution

Subdivision control ordinances require that certain electric, natural gas, telephone and cable facilities be available in each new development. Typically, these facilities must be installed underground. To coordinate each facility placement, a utility easement is required for the companies serving your area.

How Might Utility Easements Affect My Property Ownership Rights?

The most common kind of easement is one that has been given in writing to a utility company or a city or municipality. Utility easements are sometimes described in a property deed or certificate of title as “those certain utility easements as set out and shown on the map and plat of record in [such-and-such a book] on page [something-or-other].” The existence of these easements doesn’t have much day-to-day effect on your life. You can plant on the property, live on it, even build on it, as long as you don’t interfere with the utility’s use of the easement.

If you want to know where any utility easements are located on your property, call the utility company. Or, go to the county land records office or city hall and ask a clerk to show you a map of the easement locations. A survey of the property will also show the location of utility easements.

Can You Terminate the Easement on Your Property?

You can terminate your easement in several ways. Some of them include:

  • The utility company abandons the easement with no intention of coming back.
  • The easement contract stipulates an expiration date for the easement.
  • The utility company buys the property.
  • The utility company misuses the easement.

Other Means of Finding Easement Information

For accurate information about public land easements, private property easements and shared parcel use, a property owner or potential buyer should head to the county clerk and look at the property’s public records. Legal records of easements in gross and easements appurtenant can be found with transfer deeds and other documents related to a property. Finding out whether there is a prescriptive or implied easement on a property can be trickier because proving that this type of easement exists requires the easement’s user to prove that it fits the criteria for a legal easement, and this criteria varies from state to state. Prospective buyers concerned about these kinds of easements can work with real estate lawyers to determine not just whether easements are present on a property, but also their validity.

Another source of information about utility easements is the utility companies themselves. Property owners and prospective buyers can contact utility providers and request information about existing easements on specific parcels of land.

Individuals considering buying property can also seek easement information from their title insurance providers. A title insurance provider verifies real estate titles and provides owners and prospective owners with information about liens, easements and other issues about their properties that could lead to lawsuits and title disputes.

Utility Easement Rights On Your Property

When you have a utility easement on your property, the utility company may have a range of legal rights. A few restrictions you might face include:

  • Utility company access without your approval. You may want to know who will be working on your property and when, but the utility company may not have to provide that information.

  • Restrictions on physical alterations. You may want to make an improvement to a certain section of your property, but the utility easement may prevent certain upgrades due to the utility lines, such as installing an in-ground swimming pool or erecting a fence.

  • Vegetation restrictions. The utility company may require regular access to a particular area and constantly tear up your garden. Additionally, many utility easements limit the planting of major trees in a specified area.

If you’re considering purchasing a property with a utility easement, it’s a good idea to set aside some time to research your local laws and regulations. The exact requirements will vary based on your unique utility easement.

Unfortunately, the rules of utility easements can be somewhat hazy. Call your local utility company directly if you run into any questions.

Who Is Granted Access with a Utility Easement?

Easements are typically designated for a particular use and only grant certain parties the right to access it. They can allow public or private entities to access the property, and may permit or prohibit specific activities. A right-of-way is a similar concept that generally permits non-owners to pass through the property without defining the specific parties allowed to do so.

A deed should describe the easements on the property in detail. Utility easements generally allow only employees of the utility company or municipality to access the property. Even then, they may only do so for the purpose of servicing the utility lines.

For example, when a property is separated from its street by another property, an easement may be designated to allow the back-property owner to access the street. In this case, the easement is often limited to the back-property owner’s driveway to prevent that person from using other parts of the front property. An easement may also be used to prevent a property owner from performing some action such as landscaping or building a fence, which could interfere with the ability of neighboring property owners to use their own property.

Have Concerns Regarding Your Easement? An Attorney Can Help

Property rights are complicated since there are many state and local laws and regulations you need to comply with. This is especially true with easements as their creation, transfer, and termination process is unique. If you have concerns about your easement or want to know more about the process, you should consider speaking to a real estate attorney.

Understanding the Easement

The easement is explained in detail in the property deed. For example, a property may be blocked from the street by another property. The back-property owner may have a right to use part of the front owner’s property for access. This easement should describe the part of the property that is accessible, which means if the driveway is the authorized easement, the back owner should not use the yard or other parts of the front property.

The easement affects your full use and enjoyment of the property. There may be limits to the landscaping, building or other use of the areas defined in the easement. As a result, easements can affect property value if future owners see the easement as burdensome.

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