Local governments mean business when it comes to easements

On Behalf of | Jan 12, 2016 | land use & zoning

Chances are good that as you make your way through your neighborhood, you don’t give a second thought to the periodic sight of large green metal boxes — above-ground transformers — situated near the curb. That’s largely because you might imagine that these transformers are solely the business of the local government and/or utility company.

As it turns out, this is isn’t necessarily the reality. Indeed, it’s important to understand that in order to do something like bury new cables or install a new transformer on your property, the interested party must first secure what is known as an easement.

By granting an easement, a homeowner is essentially granting permission to a third party to use part of their land for a specific and non-restrictive purpose in exchange for some form of compensation.

In the event a homeowner declines to grant an easement to the local government, it’s important to understand that it may resort to condemnation, meaning an attempt to use the power of eminent domain to secure the private property for a public purpose.

By way of illustration, consider the situation in Palm Beach, where city officials are currently in the process of attempting to secure easements from roughly 25 percent of single-family homeowners for a utilities burial and associated installation of above-ground transformers.

While the process is still in its early stages, city officials have indicated that they have essentially three options at their disposal for securing the easements:

  • The homeowners agree to allow the burial of utilities in exchange for a small sum and a promise to screen transformers with landscaping.
  • The homeowners refuse and the city opts to put the transformers on large concrete poles, something that maybe seen by neighbors as visually displeasing and which would cost the area a projected Florida Power & Light discount.
  • The homeowners refuse and the city initiates condemnation proceedings.

What this serves to underscore is that local governments mean business and that matters will likely escalate quickly if homeowners are reluctant to grant a requested easement. As such, those who find themselves in these situations should strongly consider speaking with an experienced legal professional to learn more about their rights and their options.