Am I always going to be asking permission for Internet?
February 15, 2014 6:38 PM   Subscribe

I bought a house, yay. The cable company won't serve me, boo. Why not? They say I have no legal path to get from their utility pole to my lot. The property owner next door is willing to give me permission to cross his lot but balked at an easement. What can I do? (Picture contained within.)

This all takes place inside the city limits of Seattle, Washington.

This is a picture of my current situation.

The green line is the existing aerial drop from the utility pole (red dot east of Side Street). My house is the red rectangle. The orange rectangle is a multifamily building. The dashed grey lines are our not-to-scale lot lines.

My cable TV and telephone wires come from the utility pole and are physically tied (yes, tied, as in "temporary setup that has been there for a long time") to the stairs on the building next door. The local cable company came out for an installation and said "no way, pal, we can't serve you like that, you need permission from the building owner next door." I checked all of the records I can find through the King County Recorder's office. There is no easement, as far as I can tell.*

I wrote to the owner of the property next door to ask for an easement, a 6' path across the back property line (grey box in the picture). It is an LLC with a listed manager who has an address that's also in Seattle. He called me back and turned down an easement because he didn't want to encumber his property and possibly screw up future development, but said he'd be happy to give me permission. That's all good, right?

Here's my problem: What happens when or if this LLC sells? Or tears down the building to build townhouses? I have no other way to get 911 access, and I need a physical phone line for a few different reasons. It's my understanding that if I accept permission, I forgo any claim to a "prescriptive easement" because now the owner is allowing my "open and notorious use." But I don't really want to sue for an easement, either, since that seems like a great way to antagonize someone who is trying to be accommodating and also look out for his own interests.

Mrs. Fireoyster and a friend of mine say I'm being too worrisome. They say that, worst case, in 10 years the building gets redeveloped and the new owners come to me saying "hey, your wires are in the way, can we run them elsewhere?"

What would you do, MeFites? Do I have any other options?

* Why don't I have access via Major Arterial Rd? According to the cable company, about 30 years ago, Seattle rebuilt this road and buried all the utilities. The previous cable and telephone companies were invited to bury their wires as well but declined to do so. Now there are no utility poles on Major Arterial Rd so neither cable nor telephone can run down it through the air.
posted by fireoyster to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This is so much a legal question that it could have been a chunk of one of my property finals. Please contact a lawyer and do not make your access to 911 dependent on an "understanding".
posted by Sequence at 6:48 PM on February 15, 2014 [9 favorites]

Does your plat of survey show any other utility or city easements on the property? I've never seen a lot that didnt have some margin around the property for city water/gas/sewer to use.

What about asking the telco or CATVco to put a pole in the northeast corner of your lot and fly a wire over to that point? If they can cross Side Street for your neighbor, they could do the same for you.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:49 PM on February 15, 2014

Response by poster: Not trying to threadsit, but to answer:

There are houses behind both lots as well, not shown on the example drawing. The lots are identical and meet at the same lot line. To imagine it, the vertical lines continue north and the horizontal dotted line is shared between the four.

JoeZydeco, the plat for these lots is from the 1890s and, after much looking, I finally found it. No easements of any kind exist on that plat. A survey done in 2001 of two lots right next to mine also does not note any easements. The cable company won't do anything to get to my lot because they say they can't cross orange-building's lot without permission. (The grey box easement is what I proposed to the neighboring landowner, not what actually exists.)

Sequence, do you have any tips for what I should say to said lawyer or is this description sufficient?
posted by fireoyster at 6:56 PM on February 15, 2014

You might want to contact your title company. They, in turn, can contact the abstractor who did the search on your property to make certain there is not an existing easement. They would also have contact info of the previous owner of the home to find out what they did about this situation. Personally, I would agree with Sequence and not rely on a verbal agreement.
posted by msbadcrumble at 6:58 PM on February 15, 2014

I would recommend talking to your planning/public works department. Chances are someone their gets paid to look into and fix this kind of problems (I know that is what I get paid for where I work). They will probably have access to any listed PUE (Public Utility Easements) that may already exist that you can use and if not at least give you advice for how to approach the issue and maybe even be able to get you in touch with a land use attorney about a prescriptive easement that may exist because your property has had utility access across the neighbors lot for so long (perhaps as long as their have been utilities to cross the lot). And as far as the major arterial goes, almost all cities require utility hookups to be from the nearest public ROW that is the least intensive use (I.E. if you have frontage on both a arterial and a local road, you HAVE to have hookups from the local road.

If no easement exists (and an easement doesn't have to be on the plat at all) My advice would be to approach the neighbor with a diagram that shows the easement you need is in the building setback anyway and they can't build their no matter what anyway. This often solves the objection. If it doesn't some amount of cash usually will.

However, From your situation I would bet dollars to donuts that you have some kind of easement across the neighbor property already, you just don't know it. A land use attorney or a land surveyor can find it in short order and for a few hundred dollars at most. If you town public works department is nice and cares about customer service the city surveyor will do it for you. (or city surveyor does it at least once a week it seems). It would also be worth it to see if one of your other neighbors would allow you to hook it up through their property...
posted by bartonlong at 7:22 PM on February 15, 2014 [8 favorites]

If you can't convince the owner of the building next door to give you an easement (and if no easement currently exists) you might be able to convince him to sell you one. I don't know if that is an option for you or what your budget would be for something like that, but it's worth considering.
posted by Scientist at 7:41 PM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yikes, Sequence is right. You have a potential legal rat's nest here. Get thee to a lawyer.

(Also, how was this not sorted before you closed on the house? If a lawyer was involved in that transaction, I'd suggest seeking legal help for this problem elsewhere.)
posted by sevensnowflakes at 8:33 PM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Should this have come up during the title search? Just throwing it out there. Isn't this the sort of thing that the search is supposed to protect you from?
posted by BoscosMom at 8:33 PM on February 15, 2014

How does the neighbor on the other side of you get his cable and phone? Just because you "have always" gotten yours from the sidestreet pictured, maybe it makes more sense to come from however the chap on the other side does it.

I helped my mother who was doing some improvements on her house in NY about 25 years ago so take this for what it is worth, but I recall that her neighbor, although willing, had an obligation to allow certain wires to cross their property to get to my mother's. I would contact a lawyer not to get contentious, but to see how you can find a solution that is ok for both you and your seemingly cooperative neighbor.

Before you contact a lawyer, you might want to do a little research at town hall (or the equivalent in Seattle) and ask about obligations for utilities, etc. They might know the answer to this.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:53 PM on February 15, 2014

Response by poster: Follow-up answers: The lots to the other side of me (left, in the example picture) have been vacant for more than a decade, ergo there's no one there to care. As to how this didn't come up during closing, the wires are present so I guess everyone assumed they were allowed to be there (or never even looked). My inspection report mentioned them insofar as "you might want to move these to some place that's more accessible to you than the neighbor's back stairs," but I didn't think anything of it past "yeah, the cable company won't like having to knock on the other door during the install so I'll pay to have the wires moved."

No, there was no lawyer on my side, which is looking unfortunate.
posted by fireoyster at 9:48 PM on February 15, 2014

I would be absolutely pissed beyond belief that the former owners didn't say anything about this. They knew that this would be an issue. I would want someone to pay me for this inconvenience. Lawyer.
posted by brownrd at 10:02 PM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Also, he has agreed that permission be in written form, which is the only kind the cable company will accept. (I just realized, I have no idea if the phone company will accept it.)
posted by fireoyster at 10:03 PM on February 15, 2014

Best answer: You are not clear in your answer about the title search. Did you have a policy of title insurance in your name when you purchased? If so, it may be the title insurance company that should be puzzling this out. A right of access for utilities may well be essential to provide marketable title in your state. That is what the lawyer you consult will want to discuss with you.

Words in white on green are discussion points only. You need legal advice and assistance.
posted by yclipse at 3:18 AM on February 16, 2014

Best answer: I would first review the franchise agreements the cable companies have with the city (links to both providers on this page) and then contact the Office of Cable Communications before paying for a lawyer. Good luck!
posted by bCat at 4:27 AM on February 16, 2014

Also, he has agreed that permission be in written form, which is the only kind the cable company will accept.

Then I don't see what the problem is, but I would consult a property lawyer.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:37 AM on February 16, 2014

Best answer: You cannot resolve this on the internet so stop. Gather your papers and seek professional advice.
posted by koahiatamadl at 6:08 AM on February 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

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