In a previous post, we explained the nature of a public utility easement and how it can affect your property. In this post, I will discuss the termination of a public utility easement when it is located in a public right of way and that public right of way is abandoned or terminated. For more on how a public right of way can be abandoned, take a look a look at our blog post here.
A public utility easement grants certain rights to a public utility to use your land for public utility purposes. For more about what a public utility easement is, please refer to our previous blog post here. Although a public utility easement is created over private property, it can be located within a public right of way located on private property, e.g. an alleyway, private road, or other types of access. Indeed, it is not uncommon that there are also public utility easements in the public right of way.
Termination of a Public Utility Easement
Generally, easements used by public utilities for a public purpose terminate when the utility abandons such purpose, regardless of how they are created. In addition, when a public easement is abandoned, the city or county has the jurisdiction to reserve or terminate existing public utility easements in the street. Therefore, unless expressly reserved, if a public easement is abandoned, the public utility easement is terminated as well. However, where continued use by the public utility is reasonably necessary, the easement terminates, but the utility can continue the use on payment of compensation to the owner.
For example, in the case of Kachadoorian v. Calwa County Water Dist. (1979) 96 Cal.App.3d 741, a public utility had a franchise to maintain a water pipe in an alleyway separating two parcels of property owned by the same owner. When the franchise expired, the county abandoned the alley. At that time, the title to the alley reverted to the owner. Because the county did not expressly reserve an easement to the utility, nor did the utility request to preserve the easement, the owner brought an action to quiet title to the easement claims by the utility.
In that case, the Court acknowledged that the rights to the utility had terminated and that it was a therefore trespassing. However, because there was a reasonable necessity to maintain the use, the owner could not quiet title, but was entitled to damages. Think of this compensation like when public or quasi-public entity exercises their right of eminent domain to acquire an easement over private land.
At Schorr Law, we are experienced in handling all types of easement matters, including the termination of a public utility easement. To see if you qualify for a free 30-minute consultation regarding your matter, please contact us by phone, email, or send us a message through our contact form.
By Stephanie Goldstein, esq.
See related: Extinguishment of Easements by Merger