Can I xeriscape an easement?
June 24, 2010 1:31 PM   Subscribe

Utility Easements and Landscaping - What's legal?

I'm planning to xeriscape most of my yard over the next winter, but before I do that, I want to make sure I'm not going to do something that will be illegal.

I have a water line, electrical line, and telephone line running through my front yard. Can I safely landscape with stone (bull rock, 1" to 1.5" in diameter) over these lines without the city complaining? I imagine that it would make it a bit more difficult to dig when (not "if" ... when!) the utility lines need to be serviced or repaired.

I imagine that as long as I don't place something permanent, like a wall or large boulder, over the lines, I would be within acceptable limits... but I can't find anything on the utility company websites or city laws that say what is allowable. Does anyone know if there's a federal or state law in place that governs this? Or is it so common sense that I've completely missed it?

I'm in Bryan, TX.
posted by SpecialK to Home & Garden (5 answers total)
Talk to the city (they provide your water line, and hence have that easement), the power
company (they have the easement for the power line), and the phone company (they have
the easement for the phone line).

Personally, it sounds like your head is in the right place.
Remember, whatever you put in there they can tear out with impunity.
I wouldn't ask: I'd just do it.
posted by the Real Dan at 2:22 PM on June 24, 2010

I don't have a specific source to cite but I am a civil engineer in Texas. In my experience, the easement owner will allow landscaping that doesn't restrict access to or damage the utility lines. Also, if they need access to the line they probably won't reinstall the landscaping back the way you had it.

In reality, it is very unlikely that they will ever notice or care either way.
posted by Uncle Jimmy at 2:27 PM on June 24, 2010

Seconding Uncle Jimmy in terms of limitations. Don't plant anything with a serious root system, and don't plant anything you'd miss if it were uprooted. Additionally, the city will probably want vegetation below a certain height in the front 10 feet or so of your yard, for adequate visibility.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:44 PM on June 24, 2010

Unless your law is very different to Australian law, the easement is a property right. It's up to them to enforce it - and they probably won't, unless they need access. They're not going to tell you what sort of landscaping is OK for three reasons:
1) They don't want to imply that they will respect your plants or landscaping;
2) They may have subcontracted the work out, in which case it's not their problem;
3) They're going to dig through anything that you plant or construct anyway, and from their perspective it doesn't make much difference.

Also, unless there's a specific law about this sort of thing where you live (which they would probably have warned you about) then the worst case scenario is that they ask you to dig the stuff up or knock it down. Have you ever heard of anyone having to do this? Ask your neighbours if they've heard of it. No? Well, then.

Oh yes - IANAL.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:37 PM on June 24, 2010

Also, having been one of those people that comes out looking for access to those things (in my case, as a telephone tech): if there's any access points, pits, manholes, meters, traps, etc in the easement, please don't go covering them up with your landscaping. We need access to them occasionally for reasons that may be totally unrelated to your services or those of people down the line from you, we know they're there somewhere, we're not going to wait 3 days for the guys with maps to come out and locate them for us, and you'll be much happier if we don't have to dig the whole damned lot up with a shovel or randomly poke around likely-looking spots in your flowerbed with a prybar just to find them ;-)
posted by Pinback at 5:51 PM on June 24, 2010

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