Neighbor's buried pipeline raises easement questions


May 23, 2004

Dear Mr. Azrael:

Before I purchased my home, it was an undeveloped lot in a residential neighborhood that was owned by the builder.

A neighbor with property on the side and rear of my yard buried a PVC pipeline through what is now my back yard and common property of the homeowners' association. The pipe ran from his sump pump to the storm drain directly behind my lot.

This pipeline was not disclosed at settlement and it encroaches on at least 20 feet of our property. It broke once and he fixed it.

That neighbor is now moving and we want to know what our rights are in this situation.

Dear Reader:

Your neighbor has no right to run an underground pipe across your property unless he has been granted a valid easement either by you or a predecessor in title.

A right to run underground pipes or utilities is granted by a written easement instrument, which is recorded in the land records at the county courthouse. If an easement had been granted before you purchased your property, it should have been noted in your title insurance policy. So you should check your policy to see if an easement is listed.

Because you object to this pipe, you may want to notify your neighbor and his real estate agent in writing that the PVC pipe should be removed now or that you might require it to be removed in the future. That way, the new owner will be put on notice of your position.

You also might consider signing a formal easement document, granting the neighboring property permission to maintain the pipeline across your property.

If you do nothing, you run the risk that the neighboring property could acquire the right to maintain the pipeline without your express consent.

This "prescriptive" right could arise in favor of your neighbor and his successors in title if the pipeline remains in active use for 20 years.

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