Building a larger house -- do we need to worry about utility easements?

Be wary when constructing around areas where a city has a utility easement.

Question

I am planning to add a new room onto my home. When I bought my house, I recall seeing a city sewer line easement in the title report. I’m pretty sure the addition I want to build will be located over the sewer line easement. Do I need to worry about the easement?

Answer

A homeowner should avoid interfering with the city’s easement rights. Sewer and utility easements grant a right to a utility company or local municipality to use someone else’s land. The allowed use varies from easement to easement, but in most all cases, the landowner is not allowed to interfere with that use. So, if there is a sewer easement across your property, even if the sewer lines are below ground, you can’t interfere with the allowed use, which may include repair or maintenance work the city has to do.

If you construct the addition over the easement area, you may find the city not only tearing down your addition but also sending you a bill for the demolition. Such an outcome might seem extreme, but if the sewer line bursts below your new addition and needs emergency repair, the city would need to take immediate action to fix the problem.

Before you abandon your dream addition, though, you should pull that title report out of your files and carefully review the language in the easement. It is possible that the easement specifically addresses the construction of improvements over the easement area. The easement may strictly prohibit such construction, or, alternatively, it may permit such construction so long as the improvement can be constructed in a way not to interfere with the city’s easement rights (which may include the right to access, maintain, repair, construct, and/or inspect the sewer line or underground utility).

A real estate attorney can help you review the easement and determine the extent of the risk you will assume if you build the addition over the easement.

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