What is an easement and can you build a fence on one? In short, an easement is the legal right to use someones property. Many homeowners have easements on their properties.
However, they remain unaware of them until the times comes to do a project which involves the easement. Such as, installing a fence.
Most easements are active. Meaning the land dedicated to the easement is in use. However, sometimes they are provisional. This means they are available for future use when needed.
With any luck, you won’t have an easement located on your property. If you do, hopefully you were made aware when purchasing the property. Many times, realtors “forget” to mention this important information when selling a house.
For those of you that do, this article will provide a better understanding of what an easement is. It will also explain what the most common types are. Last, I’ll discuss how they impact fence installation, location and possible layout changes.
Types of Easements
There are many types of easements. Some are located below ground and some are located above.
However, for the sake of this article, we will look at the most common types. Specifically those types that have an influence on fence installation and location.
Utility easements are the most common type. As the name depicts, these are areas of land for utility lines to run through.
However, these are main lines. Not like the smaller utility lines that feed your house. Utility lines found in easements are larger enough to feed an entire development. Sometimes, even an entire city.
So it is important to know where they are located. Accidental damage to large utility lines located in easements have tremendous impact.
Hitting one potentially effects hundreds and sometimes thousands of residents. In worst case scenarios, injury or death can occur.
Gas easements allow for main gas lines to travel across country. Almost all are below ground level. However, not always.
Yellow markers usually mark the location of the lines. Indicating the dangers below. They are maintained and inspected frequently. Either by foot, all terrain vehicle or by air.
They are wide in nature. Many times up to 40 – 60 feet wide. Even when trees are present or when the lines run through woods, the easement line will be clear.
Easements for power lines can be above or below ground. Power lines carry electricity. High voltage lines are very dangerous.
As a result, they usually run in the air between poles or towers. However, sometimes they are buried below ground level. Just like gas lines, the path they take is clear of trees.
Where possible, a gravel road will run the length of the easement allowing easy inspection. However, when the lines run through residential neighborhoods, inspection by foot is quite common.
Buried below ground level, water mains carry lots of water. A main water line is responsible for providing drinking water to many residents.
Damage to one will cause interruption to water service. Require a boil alert. And probably make a huge mess. Therefore, try to avoid hitting one. Just like gas and power lines.
However, unlike the other two utilities, life threatening ramifications are probably not a concern.
Drainage easements direct storm water to specific areas. Usually a retention pond or sewer.
Some have pipe lines buried below ground. With the occasional catch basin and metal grate spaced out every so often. Others are a simple swale or ditch cut into the land during grading that direct the water to another location.
There is nothing really dangerous about drainage easements. However, impacting the flow of water can have prolonged consequences over time.
Even worse, during heavy rain storms, drainage easements blocked by fence can create water backups and or flooding.
Right of Way Easements
Right of way easements allow someone to have access to your property, normally to allow access to an adjacent property. The most common type is for driveways.
Many times land locked parcels contain no access from roads. Therefore, an adjacent property owner grants an easement in order to gain access.
Sometimes, these types are provisional. Meaning they currently may not be in use. Especially if the land locked piece of property does not have a dwelling on it.
However, the right of way easement will allow access to build a future home or barn.
Can You Build a Fence on an Easement?
So the answer you came here to find is if building a fence on an easement is allowed. My answer to you is……..sometimes. It really depends on the type and who owns it.
Most times an inspection of the fence location is required before approval. Here’s how things normally work when granted permission.
For gas lines, a fence built parallel to the line will require staying a certain distance away from the line. A fence line that crosses the line on a perpendicular angle requires that the posts remain a certain distance away.
In some cases, a double gate will be required wide enough to allow access through the fence. The gas company that owns the line will have a specific set of rules and standards for fence granted on an easement.
I don’t think I have ever seen permission for a fence granted on a power line easement where the lines are located overhead.
Fences located near buried power lines have similar guidelines as fences near gas lines. Consulting the power company who owns the line is best practice.
Water lines are not as complicated as gas and electric. However, checking with the water company is always best practice.
The Risk of Installing a Fence on an Easement
Even when permission is granted, the utility company that owns the easement has the upper hand.
Most companies will grant permission under the assumption that if ever the utility line should require repair or replacement, the fence will be removed at the property owners expense.
For most homeowners, the gamble is worth not loosing valuable yard space. However, in order to prevent future legal conundrums, some cities require signing a licensed agreement in the presence of a notary.
Drawing up this agreement usually carries a small fee. However, in most cases the price is well worth it to not have to give up valuable real estate outside of the fence.
Building a fence on an easement without permission is not advised. It can lead to costly fines or worse. In the most extreme cases, the fence will be removed at the homeowners cost.
It is always best to contact the owner of the easement in regards to granting permission for installing a fence. In many cases, permission is granted.
Certain requirements may need to be met along with certain forms or legal documents. However, in most situations just meeting the specified requirements is good enough.
For more information on finding property lines and locating easements, read our article on Property Lines and Fence Layout.