An easement is the right of someone to use your property for a specific purpose. In the case of a sewer easement, it means that a sewage authority, wastewater district, or neighboring property owner has the right to access or place sewer lines that run through a property. Easements are negotiated through a sewer easement agreement.
How to Know if There Is an Easement on Your Property
If there is an easement on your property, it will show if filed with the office that keeps land title records in your county, usually the county clerk or recorder of deeds. If you have recently purchased a property with a mortgage and a title search was performed, the title company will likely have gone through the property records to ascertain whether the property has an easement.
Easements allow local utilities to provide services without having to purchase large parcels of land. Sewer departments may lay pipe over thousands of miles and may cross large swaths of undeveloped land. Buying such property can be prohibitive and unnecessary. Condemning it through use of eminent domain may be politically unpopular.
An easement may prohibit you from fully using your property as you would like. Sewer districts may forbid you from building anything over a sewer line. If you want your deck in just such a spot and build it there, it can be destroyed if utility crews need to access a sewer line or manhole cover located beneath it. Similarly, emergency repairs may require that utility crews dig up lines in your backyard.
Because easements limit an owner's use of a property, they can reduce property values. The entity obtaining an easement may pay the owner of the property at the time the easement is granted. On the other hand, undeveloped land that an owner wants to sell for housing development may benefit from an easement, because sewer and water lines would have to be in place for houses to be built. In these cases, the addition of sewer lines would make a property more valuable.
Title companies can, occasionally, miss the existence of sewer easements. Contractors can, occasionally, discover and rupture these undisclosed sewer lines. If this happens, title insurance might be used to pay for the damage. Writing in the Housing Pages, the late nationally syndicated real estate columnist Robert J. Bruss noted: "If the city's sewer easement was properly recorded, but the title insurer failed to discover and disclose it, the title insurer is liable to the property owner for either the cost of moving the sewer pipe or the diminished value of the property."