Author Topic: selling my house, encroaching utility easement  (Read 453 times)

uniwelder

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selling my house, encroaching utility easement
« on: March 01, 2021, 11:32:10 AM »
We'll be selling our primary house soon and looking for some free legal advice before contacting a lawyer.  A water line runs through my yard, between the house and garage, to my neighbor's property behind.  The original survey shows a 10 foot wide utility easement for it.  Over the past 10 years I've been encroaching (violating?) on it and wonder what the implications are upon selling.

I've put in a concrete walkway that crosses over (runs perpendicular to) the water line, put in a fence (also crosses perpendicular), and have a bunch of landscaping along the water line route.  There is also a water line and electrical service line that crosses it, leading from my house to my garage, but I know this is legal since it was permitted by the county.  This makes up a 40 foot stretch of obstacles that a backhoe wouldn't be able to access easily.  The other 100 feet of property has clear access.

I realize I need to disclose the easement and the violations to prospective buyers at a minimum.  Not sure if any of this reaches the level where corrective action is required.  I called the zoning department for the county and they don't seem interested and said its not their concern.  Any advice or experience with something like this?

waltworks

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Re: selling my house, encroaching utility easement
« Reply #1 on: March 01, 2021, 01:03:27 PM »
Is it an active water line?

I had a similar situation once when buying a house - there was a utility easement that the house itself actually encroached on. But in our case there wasn't any actual electrical/sewer/etc there - the easement was there from when the land was subdivided and never ended up being used for utilities for whatever reason.

We ended up getting the easement voided by the county which took some time but wasn't that horrible.

If it's an active water line, yeah, you might lose your fence or some landscaping at some point (or the new owner might). I think you just need to disclose that.

-W

ChpBstrd

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Re: selling my house, encroaching utility easement
« Reply #2 on: March 01, 2021, 01:07:30 PM »
I may be wrong, but I don't think things like sidewalks, fences, and other pipelines count as "violations". It's fairly normal to tear up such things to replace utility lines, and of course the landscaping gets all dug up. It's possible to leave the intersecting lines in place during water line replacement if the workers know where those lines are.

Building a structure on top of the easement would be a violation, but what you're talking about is yard work. The easement will be disclosed on the survey and you can just state "it's never been a problem". It hasn't and it won't be. The worst that could happen would be the new owner has to cover the cost of pouring a new section of sidewalk. Small potatoes.

PMJL34

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Re: selling my house, encroaching utility easement
« Reply #3 on: March 01, 2021, 01:22:54 PM »
I would just disclose it and list and move on. You didn't do anything wrong and I don't think there is anything you can do.

Best of luck!

uniwelder

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Re: selling my house, encroaching utility easement
« Reply #4 on: March 01, 2021, 01:23:50 PM »
Walt and ChpBstrd, that gives me some hope.

It is active and will need replacement soon. Iím actually surprised itís lasted this long. Itís a galvanized steel pipe, possibly 70 years old. I replaced mine when I built the garage. Rented a trencher and dropped a 3Ē corrugated drain pipe in to serve as a conduit for the new line. I asked if they wanted to replace theirs at the same time and share costs, but they declined. Thinking back on it, I should have just trenched the other line anyway.

I wonder if itís possible to snake a second line through my conduit for their house. Our lines run parallel, a couple of feet apart, up until mine turns into my house. That would avoid tearing up the concrete, fence, plants, etc.

uniwelder

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Re: selling my house, encroaching utility easement
« Reply #5 on: March 01, 2021, 01:25:53 PM »
I would just disclose it and list and move on. You didn't do anything wrong and I don't think there is anything you can do.

Best of luck!

The survey shows a 10 foot wide easement, so I must be in the wrong? Right?
At the moment I wrote this it made sense, but looking back, I'm not sure what was being communicated.  Your logic is following that of ChpBstrd---- non-permanent obstacles aren't a violation?
« Last Edit: March 02, 2021, 05:03:31 AM by uniwelder »

joe189man

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Re: selling my house, encroaching utility easement
« Reply #6 on: March 01, 2021, 08:25:17 PM »
A utility easement allows the easement holder to access said easement to maintain (this is rare) or replace the infrastructure. So for your water line, you can do what ever you want over it as long as its not permanent and the utility easement holder, i believe, isn't responsible to replace any landscaping or fencing that was above the easement, just return the surface to original grade.

ask your realtor if you need to "disclose" anything, the easement should come up in a document search or be shown on your plat or survey, which it appears you have. just provide the survey and let the buyer figure it out

depending on depth of the waterline, a 10 ft wide easement may be a bit narrow to excavate down and replace the line,

cchrissyy

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Re: selling my house, encroaching utility easement
« Reply #7 on: March 01, 2021, 09:54:52 PM »
The easement probably just means the water company has the right to access that area and maintain the system underground. It's still your property and you've don't nothing wrong by putting landscaping or a fence or part over it.
You are doing the right thing to research and understand but based on what I've seen in my local area, easements are very common, they get disclosed, they show up on title searches, and nothing needs to be said or done about the sort of modifications above ground you've mentioned. They're fine..
« Last Edit: March 01, 2021, 09:57:11 PM by cchrissyy »

uniwelder

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Re: selling my house, encroaching utility easement
« Reply #8 on: March 02, 2021, 05:07:51 AM »
Joe189man and cchrissy,   This makes it 5 out of 5 people that think its not a big deal.  I'll ask around a little more, but the consensus here gives me some confidence everything will be ok.
« Last Edit: March 02, 2021, 05:09:35 AM by uniwelder »

Roots&Wings

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Re: selling my house, encroaching utility easement
« Reply #9 on: March 02, 2021, 06:42:53 AM »
The easement probably just means the water company has the right to access that area and maintain the system underground. It's still your property and you've don't nothing wrong by putting landscaping or a fence or part over it.
You are doing the right thing to research and understand but based on what I've seen in my local area, easements are very common, they get disclosed, they show up on title searches, and nothing needs to be said or done about the sort of modifications above ground you've mentioned. They're fine..

This is the usual scenario, but always double check. I have a 5' utility easement in my backyard for water lines and electric, have landscaping/pavers in this area and installed a permitted fence perpendicular to the easement (the fence section can be easily removed if/when they need to redo water lines).

You can also talk to a realtor for your location, but around here, it's on the survey and not an issue or require special disclosure.

Fishindude

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Re: selling my house, encroaching utility easement
« Reply #10 on: March 02, 2021, 07:02:46 AM »
The easement probably just means the water company has the right to access that area and maintain the system underground. It's still your property and you've don't nothing wrong by putting landscaping or a fence or part over it.
You are doing the right thing to research and understand but based on what I've seen in my local area, easements are very common, they get disclosed, they show up on title searches, and nothing needs to be said or done about the sort of modifications above ground you've mentioned. They're fine..

Yep, this isn't a big deal unless they utility company has a problem with that water line (unlikely) and they have to get in there to dig it up and replace it.  In this case, they will remove the walk, fence, landscaping and simply re-grade and plant grass on the surface.   Any restoration of the "improvements" will likely be on the occupant of the property.

uniwelder

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Re: selling my house, encroaching utility easement
« Reply #11 on: March 02, 2021, 08:01:03 AM »
The easement probably just means the water company has the right to access that area and maintain the system underground. It's still your property and you've don't nothing wrong by putting landscaping or a fence or part over it.
You are doing the right thing to research and understand but based on what I've seen in my local area, easements are very common, they get disclosed, they show up on title searches, and nothing needs to be said or done about the sort of modifications above ground you've mentioned. They're fine..

Yep, this isn't a big deal unless they utility company has a problem with that water line (unlikely) and they have to get in there to dig it up and replace it.  In this case, they will remove the walk, fence, landscaping and simply re-grade and plant grass on the surface.   Any restoration of the "improvements" will likely be on the occupant of the property.

Probably a minor point, but the easement is for a private supply line.  The neighbor's property and mine used to be one large lot, and was then subdivided 22 years ago, so the easement was created at that time. The utility company (county) has no stake in it.  I've been through this several times when the water main springs a leak and the first question they ask is whether its source is before or after the meter.

Thank you all for the help.

Herder of cats

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Re: selling my house, encroaching utility easement
« Reply #12 on: March 02, 2021, 11:24:39 AM »
Just chiming in to second (5th? 6th?) what others have said.  I wouldn't be too worried.  Typically in situations like this you, as the owner of the land subject to the easement, have the right to continue to use the easement area in any way that doesn't unreasonably interfere with the rights of the easement holder.  So, from the sounds of it, I wouldn't say that you are "violating" the easement at all. 

In my neck of the woods (which, admittedly, is not your neck of the woods), its very common for fencing/sidewalks/driveways to be installed over top of a waterline easement.  Basically anything that's not a permanent structure.  (Side note, the landscaping might be a touchier subject - if its something with deep roots that could interfere with the water line that could be an issue, but doesn't really sound like it is in your situation.) 

Who bears the cost or expense to replace a section of sidewalk or fencing that's overtop of the easement, you or the easement holder, if it needs to be torn up might be an issue, but probably not a big one.  As Fishindude mentioned, in my area, the easement holder likely is only required to regrade and replant grass/resod.  Anything improvement-wise above that is sort of a "use at your own risk" type situation, where the landowner will likely be responsible for the costs to repair.  Though, the easement document itself should specify who is responsible for what costs. 

Sorry, this response got long and is more than you're asking for I think, but, is the easement of record?  If so, I don't think you even need to worry about disclosure, because it's already publicly available.  I'd mention to your realtor and probably wouldn't really worry too much more about it. 
« Last Edit: March 02, 2021, 02:28:23 PM by Herder of cats »

robartsd

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Re: selling my house, encroaching utility easement
« Reply #13 on: March 02, 2021, 11:49:28 AM »
Most likely if access was needed, the easement holder would avoid damaging improvements that cross the easement if it is practical to do so; but they might not be required to do so. Certainly if damage to improvements that cross the easement is needed, they will take out the improvements and likely not pay for replacing them. Your documents need to disclose the easement. The prospective buyers need to do their own due diligence about the potential for the easement holder to damage the improvements without compensation, you shouldn't have to bring this up for them.

norajean

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Re: selling my house, encroaching utility easement
« Reply #14 on: March 02, 2021, 12:02:35 PM »
Do you have the easement agreement document? What does it say?

uniwelder

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Re: selling my house, encroaching utility easement
« Reply #15 on: March 02, 2021, 02:40:01 PM »
Herder of Cats, Robartsd, Norajean,  I went through my official documents and found a discrepancy.  The survey shows a 10' wide easement, but the deed when the property was subdivided states 20'.  I imagine 20' is legal and the 10' would be considered an error of the surveyor. 

The deed itself only mentions "Grantors reserve an easement 20' in width for the installation, maintenance, and operation of a water line across (the property) for the purpose of connecting to, and obtaining water from (county).  The location of said water line easement shall be determined in the sole and reasonable discretion of Grantors.  Said easement shall run with the land."

I'm not sure why it states the location of the easement is at the discretion of the grantors (the family who initiated the property division) since I'm 100% sure the water line was already existing at the time the land was subdivided.  Nevertheless, there is no mention of financial responsibility, so I assume what everyone has been saying--- contractor being able to remove any obstacles and replace only with graded soil probably is true. 

norajean

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Re: selling my house, encroaching utility easement
« Reply #16 on: March 03, 2021, 06:13:52 AM »
Provide a copy of the easement agreement to the seller and you are done. There is no issue. Financial responsibility is by negotiation between the parties whenever the grantee needs access. If I were the grantor I would request they minimize distribution and restore anything they disrupt.