In the Boston metro area, many homes have power lines, gas lines or other utility lines over or under the property. This is usually a sign that the utility company has an easement over the land. An easement grants another party the right to access a property owner’s land. However, this does not mean that homeowners are completely without rights.
The basics of utility easements
Most utility companies establish easements at the time the property is built. This means that the deed to a home, particularly if it is a newer home, includes a utility easement. In other scenarios, the utility company might have reached an agreement with the homeowner or gone to court to obtain an easement. Easements typically grant the utility company the right to send workers to your property to inspect their lines or poles or install certain utility features.
When a utility company breaches an easement
However, some utility companies breach their easement. For instance, if a staff member of theirs performs work on the power lines over your property and damages your backyard in the process. In this case, you would have the right to sue for damages. However, there is a high burden of proof on the part of the property owner in breach-of-easement cases against utility companies.
What are homeowners’ rights?
Homeowners usually cannot interfere with the utility’s easement. Even if a utility does not have an explicit easement, it can sometimes go onto a homeowner’s land through an implied easement or prescriptive use.
To remove an easement, you would need to go to court and petition to have it terminated. This is incredibly rare and only happens in cases in which a utility is negligently or willfully abusing their rights. Even in these situations, the court rarely terminates the easement entirely. Instead, it might penalize the utility by awarding damages to the homeowner.