What is a utility easement? An easement, generally, is a grant of specific rights to a specific entity on an area of the property. For example, an adjoining neighbor may want to access a public road by utilizing a driveway on another neighbor’s property. The adjoining neighbor can seek to acquire from the other neighbor an access easement over the property on that driveway area. This would be an access easement. A utility easement is the same as an access easement, or any other easement, except for instead of a neighbor getting the right to use a driveway, the utility company is getting the right to build a powerline or pipeline.
And how wide is a utility easement? The width and size of utility easements depend entirely on what is being built. For example, a local telephone line or electricity line may only necessitate 25-50 foot-wide easements. For larger pipelines and powerlines, they can require 75-100 foot easements with adjacent 25-50 foot temporary easements for construction purposes.
Though many people have never heard of a utility easement, they are quite common. Most homes have easements for utilities, such as water pipes, gas pipes, or electrical lines. Dubbed “distribution lines,” these types of utilities traditionally have little effect on property values and in fact usually bolster the value of properties because they signal that a property has access to certain utilities (water, electrical, gas).
While distribution line easements have little effect on the value, “transmission line” easements certainly can. Transmission lines, be they powerlines or pipelines, are used for moving energy resources across large swaths of land. They are typically much larger than smaller distribution lines. If you have ever driven across a swath of rural land, chances are you have seen large powerlines crisscrossing farmland. These are transmission lines. Similarly, the Keystone or Dakota Access pipelines are examples of transmission pipelines. Be they transmission powerlines or transmission pipelines, these structures are much more complex, and possibly dangerous, and require wider easements with more rights. Consequently, these easements can have a significant impact on the value of property they encumber.
Beyond the complexity of the easements, transmission pipes and powerlines can have intrinsic effects on property values. Many landowners do not want to deal with whatever challenges these structures may pose to the property owner. Accordingly, the value of these properties encumbered by transmission structures may decrease due to this reduced demand from potential buyers. A landowner is entitled to the diminution in his or her property value caused by the introduction of the transmission line, and a landowner should secure this diminution compensation as part of its easement agreement with the utility company.
Compensation is only one part of the equation when dealing with a utility easement. As discussed, an easement can serve any purpose. It can provide a landowner with access; it can temporarily grant a department of transportation the right to assemble its equipment; it can grant virtually any entity the right to do anything. This means, of course, that what specific rights are being granted within the easement document need to be carefully crafted. Most utility easements are permanent and are recorded with the county recorder’s office–meaning whether you sell your property, your kids inherit it, or the bank seizes it, the easement will be there unless relinquished voluntarily or as a matter of law. Like diamonds, permanent easements are forever. It is imperative that a landowner ensures an easement’s language is precisely drafted to avoid getting taken advantage of by the utility company.
Now that you know more about utility easements, it’s time to learn more about your rights as a landowner. Contact Sever Storey for answers to all of your questions and help in challenging an unjust eminent domain case. Find an attorney in your state today.
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