Utilities are one of those things we take for granted – until there’s an issue. A survey conducted by FindLaw.com revealed that neighborly disputes are surprisingly common – over 42% of respondents reported quarreling with the folks next door.
One of the most contentious issues that can arise between neighbors involves utility lines and easements.
You still have certain rights if your neighbor has a utility easement on your property. Here they are:
|What it Means
|Must notify you before accessing property for repairs/maintenance
|Should compensate you for utility easement
|Can object to changes in location or use
|Can take action if easement terms violated
So, what do you do when your neighbor wants to run their water, sewer, electrical, or other utility lines through your property? Can they legally do that without your okay? What rights do you have?
This blog post will walk you through the ins and outs of utility easements, your rights as a property owner, and how to address the situation if your neighbor’s utilities cross into your land. Let’s dive in!
Can my neighbor run their utilities through my property?
The short answer? Generally, they can’t – unless there’s already a utility easement on your property allowing them access.
An easement gives certain rights to someone else to use or access part of your land for a stated purpose. They are usually recorded on the property deed or subdivision map.
So, if an existing easement includes utility access, your neighbor likely has the right to run lines through that area. But if there’s no easement, they need your permission.
What is a utility easement, and how does it affect my property?
A utility easement gives utility companies the right to access a certain area of your property to install, maintain, or repair equipment like:
- Water and sewer lines
- Electrical wires
- Gas pipes
- Cable and internet lines
Easements are often included right on the property deed. They’re designed for a specific use, so not just anyone can come on your land whenever they want.
But how exactly does an easement affect you as the property owner? Here are some key things to know:
- Utility companies can dig or excavate within the easement area for repairs and maintenance.
- You likely can’t build permanent structures, plant trees, or make major landscaping changes where the easement is located.
- You still own the land the easement is on – you’ve just granted specific access rights.
- In some cases, you may get compensation ($$$) for allowing the easement.
- Easements are recorded, so future owners will know about them too.
- They are transferable and remain in effect when the property is sold.
So, in a nutshell, utility easements give access rights but also limit how you can use that portion of your property.
What are the utilities that my neighbor can have on my property?
What exactly can your neighbor install or access if there’s a utility easement? The specifics will depend on the agreement, but often it includes:
- Water lines – To connect their supply from the main line to their house.
- Sewer lines – To hook up their home to the main sewer or septic system.
- Electrical lines – Wires above or below ground connecting their power from the utility pole and meters.
- Gas lines – Pipes bringing natural gas or propane from the main line.
- Cable/internet lines – Cables or wires providing services like cable TV, phone, and internet.
- Storm drains – Allows drainage from their roof or land to cross your property.
- Right of way – Permission to walk or drive across part of your land to access theirs.
- Emergency access – Right to drive on your property for emergency vehicles.
- Other utilities – Things like geothermal lines or solar access are specified in the agreement.
|Connect water supply
|Pipes, meters, valves
|Connect to sewer/septic
|Pipes, cleanouts, pumps
|Connect power supply
|Above/below ground wires
|Provide natural gas
|Pipes carrying gas
|Drainage from property
The easement documents should spell out exactly what’s allowed. It’s crucial to understand those terms if you grant access.
What are my rights if my neighbor’s utilities cross my land?
If your neighbor has an easement to run utilities through your property, what rights do you have as the landowner?
- You should be compensated for allowing them to use your land. The amount depends on the easement terms.
- You have a right to be notified if any repairs or maintenance are needed on the utilities.
- You can object if they want to change the location or use of the utilities.
- You can take legal action if they violate the easement agreement.
In short, you still have rights related to the land the easement covers. Granting access doesn’t mean giving up all say in what happens there.
And if there’s no easement in place? Then, your neighbor can’t run utilities through your property without your permission. You can refuse access, even if it prevents them from getting utilities.
Of course, they could go to court to try and force an easement. But generally, a judge will only do that if lack of access causes them major hardship.
Can I request my neighbor to relocate their utilities off my land?
What if there’s already an easement, but you want those utility lines moved elsewhere? Can you ask the neighbor to relocate them?
The short answer is yes; you can request that utilities be relocated. But your neighbor isn’t necessarily obligated to comply.
If there’s an easement in place, your neighbor has the right to use that portion of your land. You can’t force them to move the utilities unless you take legal action to terminate the easement.
That said, you can still ask them to relocate. Be polite about it and offer to cover the costs. If they refuse, you may need to consult a real estate attorney about options to dissolve the easement.
Without an easement, it’s simpler – just deny them permission to access your property at all. They’ll have to find another way to route their utilities.
The key is knowing whether or not you’ve already granted them utility access rights. Check your property records to understand the situation fully.
How can I find out if my neighbor has utilities on my property?
If you’re unsure whether your neighbor is running any utilities through your land, there are several ways to investigate:
- Check property records – Review your deed, plot map, subdivision plans for any utility easements.
- Look for signs – Utility companies often mark buried lines with above-ground signs/markers.
- Observe infrastructure – Notice any equipment like junction boxes or poles on your property.
- Follow lines back – Trace visible pipes, cables, or conduits back to the source.
- Call utilities – Ask your local companies to check if they provide service via your land.
- Hire a surveyor – They can identify easements and utility locations on your property.
- Use locating services – Special services can detect most buried utilities.
- Ask neighbors – Speak with them directly about any utilities crossing your boundary.
- Check install dates – May indicate if lines were added before/after property divisions.
Various ways to investigate whether your neighbor is running utilities through your property are as follows:
|How It Helps
|Check for easements on deed, plot map
|Look for utility markers near buried lines
|Notice any utility boxes, meters, poles
|Follow visible lines back to source
|Call to ask if they service neighbor via your land
|Professional can identify easements and utilities
|Use technology to detect buried utilities
|Ask directly about any utility access
Doing some sleuthing can uncover if your neighbor has access rights you’re unaware of. Forewarned is forearmed when it comes to property rights!
The bottom line
Dealing with a neighbor’s utilities on your property can be frustrating. But knowing your rights is empowering.
To recap, the key points are:
- Neighbors generally can’t use your land without an easement permitting utility access.
- Easements legally allow certain uses of your property by others.
- If there’s an easement, you still have rights like fair compensation.
- Without an easement, you can refuse access completely.
- Investigate thoroughly to determine if your neighbor has access rights.
- Be polite but firm in requesting utilities be relocated if desired.
- Consult a real estate pro if you need help understanding or exerting your property rights.
With the right knowledge and the help of professionals, you can address utility disputes and protect your boundaries.