Electric companies, natural gas companies and other utilities rely upon easements to transport their product to the consumer. Landowners grant right-of-ways, or easements, across their property for power lines and gas pipelines in return for compensation. These easements contain restrictions that affect land use for both the landowner and utility company. Because these easement restrictions attach to the land and bind subsequent owners, it is important to understand their legal significance.
Utility easements are restricted to a set space. The easement will have a defined width, such as 30 feet, and a length crossing the entire tract of land. A surveyor measures the easements and produces a map. That map is recorded as a public document along with the easement agreement that sets forth all the terms and restrictions. The utility confines all its work within the designated area.
Easements for underground utilities restrict digging. Landowners can only dig within the bounds of the easement with permission. The location of underground gas pipelines, electric lines and water lines can be located by utilities, if necessary, for safe digging. A landowner with an underground utility easement across his property sacrifices the right to dig holes for fence posts or any similar activity.
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A utility easement grants the right of maintenance. This means a gas company can dig up the easement to repair or replace a faulty pipe. The landowner will lose the grass he has cultivated in the easement. While the gas company will do its best to restore the land, it will probably not satisfy the landowner. Any improvements to the easement are done at the landowner's risk.
Easements restrict the rights of landowners to erect structures. An example is a large electric transmission line across farm land. The electric company must be able to access the lines for inspections, routine maintenance and repair. Any structure placed under the lines would restrict that use. The landowner can use the land for routine agricultural use and for hunting and animal grazing. Restrictions for farm land are negotiated prior to executing the easement agreement.
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