Harbaugh Real Estate

What Are Easements Anyway?

By Lee Harbaugh

If you own real estate in Texas (or almost anywhere for that matter), you may have heard the term easement. But, what exactly is an easement anyway?

an illustration of a house with an easement marked on the property

This question came up in my family recently as I was discussing utility lines in my backyard, and I mentioned that the utility companies could come into my yard and do whatever they want with their easements. My kids heard me say this and asked me if it is really legal for utility companies to come into my yard whenever they want. The answer is basically yes they can!

An easement is simply a legal right to use a landowner's (or homeowner's) land for either public or private purposes. In truth, there are many different types of easements, and many scenarios where easements are necessary. I am not going to take the time to cover them all in this post, but if you are interested in stocking up on your easement knowledge, you can find all the necessary info at the Texas State Law Library website.

When it comes to being a typical homeowner in a typical metro area, the only easements most people ever have to consider are utility easements. Utility easements give utility companies the right to access your property where their easement is located so that they can repair or replace their lines and equipment when necessary. An easement does not mean that they own the land. You as the homeowner still own the land, but the utility company can access their portion of your land when they need to. What does this mean for you?

This means it is super important for you to call and have utility lines marked in your yard before you build anything or plant any trees, shrubs, etc. in your yard.

  1. First, if something like a natural gas line or an electrical line is buried in your yard and you dig and hit it, you could be seriously injured or even killed. Staying away from utility lines in your yard when doing projects protects you.
  2. Second, if you build something over top an easement, the utility company can come in and tear up your project. I have seen cases where people built sheds or patios over top an easement, and years later the utility company needed to replace the lines and were forced to destroy the shed or patio in order to get to their lines.

If you own real estate in DFW (or anywhere in Texas), call 811 or visit texas811.org before digging in your yard for any reason. It will cost you nothing to have someone come out and mark utility lines, and it just might save your life!