Waking up to the sound of construction going on near your area is not an uncommon occurrence. However, waking up to utility flags scattered across your lawn and someone digging in your yard is another story entirely. But the fact is, utility companies often do just that. You may be wondering at this point: Can a utility company dig in my yard without permission?
The answer to that question is yes, unfortunately. A utility company can dig in your yard without permission. This happens all the time due to the use of easements. Power, telephone, gas, and water lines are buried underground, likely on your property. This gives utility companies the legal right to be on your property to fix any broken lines or install new utility lines, even if it means making changes to your yard.
If you’re dealing with this problem, you should probably stick around and read the rest of this blog post. In the sections below, we’re going to provide you with tips on what you can do as a homeowner.
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Here’s a Quick Pro Tip!
While you can’t really prevent a utility company from coming on your property, it’s good to know what they’re doing when they are there.
If they damage your property and try to make you pay for the damages, it’s just going to be your word versus theirs.
Can A Utility Company Dig Up My Yard?
The short answer is yes, utility companies can dig up your yard and they can do so legally to gain access to pipelines and cables. Some may notify you ahead of time, while most companies won’t. They won’t even wait for your approval to do the digging.
If for instance you have built a structure or landscaped an area, which is over an easement, the company has the right to remove them to maintain that easement.
A perfect example of a utility easement is when the power company is allowed to install electrical lines and erect utility poles to support them. Not only does the utility company have the right to use a strip of land for the lines, but they will also enter your property if repair and maintenance is needed.
Understanding Utility Easement Rights
What is utility easement anyway? A utility easement gives utility companies the right to access any area in your property for work on gas, electric, sewer, telephone, and water lines.
Usually, the property deed comes with a utility easement, so that it remains valid and does not change even when the property has been sold or transferred. That said, If you are the subsequent owner of the property or if you are planning to buy a house in general, it helps to know the easements of your chosen property before sealing the deal.
While an easement does give right to the utility company to use or access your land, they do not own it. You still get to retain the title and you are the owner but someone who owns easement to your property has the right to use your property.
But even if that’s the case, you, as the landowner, may still face restrictions when using a part of your land that is covered by the easement.
While the purpose of easements are to mainly allow utility companies to access your area for work, your neighbor may also own easements. In this case, you may see your neighbors passing through your yard just to access a street.
Knowing Your Rights
Understanding your rights as a landowner is important so you’ll have knowledge on how to approach this issue, especially if you feel like your privacy has been violated. At the same time, you have to know where you should stand and when to comply to avoid embarrassing situations, such as calling the police for no valid reason.
If the house you purchased came with an easement, there’s nothing you can do but comply. A utility company working on power lines, telephone lines, and what-not, are doing their job and it’s a necessity.
At the same time, if your property is the only area neighbors can access to get to another street, that means you can’t block the way or you can’t even stop them from crossing your yard. If you do so, someone can file a complaint against you and you could face a lawsuit.
You might also enjoy our post on Can I Dig a Pond on My Property?
How Will An Easement Affect Your Home Plans?
If you have future plans to modify your yard or any area in your property, then you need to learn more about the easement. Let’s say you wanted to build a deck over a certain area in your property other people can legally access.
If you push through with this project, you may be forced to destroy the structure. Worse, you could end up in court. For this very reason, it is vital to be in-the-know when it comes to an easement on a property you’re eyeing before buying it.
To put it simply, an easement gives a company or individuals the right to legally use a landowner’s property for a specific purpose. This purpose should be explained clearly on the easement.
What this also means is that you are the sole owner of your property; your neighbor cannot use the easement as an excuse to build a structure on your property. Simply, an easement gives the right of usage for a specific purpose, not grant ownership of land to a person.
Are Utility Companies Responsible For Damages?
Damages to your property resulting from negligence or accidents is inevitable, especially when a utility company digs in your yard.
If the company or its subcontractors do damage to your land while doing their work, you must immediately notify the persons involved. This is especially true if the utility company or the subcontractors didn’t acknowledge the damage.
Let’s take this scenario for example: I wake up to find Verizon digging in my yard because of an service upgrade job. Or maybe a utility company decided to pay my property a visit without my knowledge and started digging in my backyard. As a result, Verizon or the utility company damaged my driveway. Should I expect them to pay for the damages?
In most cases, the utility company will be held liable for the damages to your property. It’s worth noting that each state has different laws when it comes to this situation. But generally, the law requires utility companies to pay compensation.
What To Do If a Utility Company Damages My Property?
If damages have been done to your property, it’s best to notify the company. They should be able to let you know the best times for them to make the repair. If not, they will inform you when they will be able to send over a check to cover the damage.
More importantly, it’s your responsibility to follow-up so don’t be shy about it. A tip from many homeowners is to bug the company about your concern. One way to do this is to call them three times a day. This will likely bump your concern to the top of their list.
When Utility Companies Hesitate To Pay For Damages
While most utility companies pay compensation to customers without any hesitation, others might put up a challenge. If you’re having trouble contacting the company or if you feel they are not attending to your concern, you have two ways to approach this:
- Contact the state agency that supervises all public utilities. You can find this by searching the .gov website of your state of residence. Once you do, find out where and how you can file a complaint.
Make sure to do a follow-up on your concern. If you prevail, which in most cases you would, the utility company will pay for damages.
- If you’ve called them and did a follow-up on your concern several times but to no avail, you can move to the next step by taking the issue to court.
Can I Sue My Utility Company?
Is it possible to sue your utility company? The quick answer is yes, you can. If the damage has not been compensated despite several attempts of reaching out to them, whether directly or via proper channels, you might consider hiring a lawyer.
To take matters to court, you must be ready with proof that the utility company has been negligent with their task. You also need to prove that they have failed to repair the damages or provide compensation. If you’re going this route, make sure you work with a lawyer that has experience in dealing with utility concerns.
If you’re surprised by the sight of a trench dug on your yard by a utility company, it’s normal to be upset and wonder whether or not a utility company can dig in your yard without permission.
Unfortunately yes, they can. Keep in mind that even if you have not given any approval, utility companies can dig in your yard because of easements.
Utility companies are not the only ones that can own easement to your property. Even neighbors can have easement over your property, giving them access to your land. This means they can step on your yard and not be considered trespassing, as long as they use this access for a specific purpose.
You have the right to file a complaint if damages were done to your property while utility companies were doing their work on your yard. In most cases, you will be given compensation. In cases where you won’t, it’s best to work with a lawyer.