Unappealing Easements: the Tale of the Green Utility Monument
For the past ten years, there has been only one cable and internet provider servicing my neighborhood, with the exception of satellite options. This effective monopoly resulted in a perception of poor service at high prices, and my neighbors have long dreamt of another provider coming into our area, injecting a little competition into our neighborhood market. Well, be careful what you wish for.
Recently, as I understand it, a few especially motivated neighbors took up the cause and contacted other service providers directly. With some persistence, they were able to convince one of them to bring service to our area. When the news hit the neighborhood’s social media page a little over a month ago, there was much celebration. Shortly thereafter, notices were hung on every house’s front door, saying that crews would be working within a certain ten-day period to install service lines, and requesting that homeowners leave their gates unlocked and keep pets inside during that period because the crews may need to access their backyard.
Well, within the first couple of days of the work period, the owners of some of the first few homes that the crews had reached began posting photos on the neighborhood’s social media page of hideous green boxes that workers had installed in their backyards. These boxes are large and obtrusive, standing about three feet tall and about one foot wide on all sides. Here is a photo of the one installed in my own backyard:
After it began, the work progressed slowly, far beyond the original ten-day window stated in the notice—in fact, it has yet to be completed. From the discussion on social media, approximately one-in-three houses in the neighborhood gets a virescent obelisk. Some homeowners who have yet to be reached by the work crew and who are aware of these odds have been performing superstitious rituals to fend off being among the afflicted. So, what began as elation that a competitor was bringing service to our area has morphed into horror as the infrastructure necessary to bring the service has been installed.
Naturally, the discussion on social media has turned to the question of whether the service provider has a legal right to adorn your yard with a chartreuse monolith. Well, it depends on the scope and location of applicable easements. In this case, the neighborhood has been subdivided over a period of time by a series of plats. An easement may have been dedicated on any of these plats or may have been granted by a separate written instrument. If a public utility easement has been created by either method, the easement may explicitly or implicitly authorize such a use by such a service provider; or, if the use is not explicitly or implicitly authorized by the easement itself, the authority for such use of may be granted by statute.
Because easements may vary from plat to plat, or even from lot to lot within a single plat if granted by a separate written instrument, the determination of whether an aquamarine appurtenance may be erected in a particular backyard may require case-by-case analysis. Nevertheless, heed this warning: if you do not have an atrocious fixture in your backyard at the moment, someone may come along and install one in ten years or so. Aren’t easements great?
Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. Information about our real estate practice can be found here.
Byron L. Brown is an attorney with the Randle Law Office in Houston, Texas, where his practice areas include municipal economic development, municipal franchises and commercial lease litigation. He graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio with a B.A. in Criminal Justice, and earned his J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center.