As Texas continues to grow its infrastructure across the state’s private, rural lands, potential litigation related to old easements is becoming a serious issue. Buyers of rural land often fail to identify the existence of unmaintained, but legal, “blanket” easements in the title commitment, leaving them vulnerable to the legal rights of oil and gas companies or utilities that may decide to maintain or construct on them after decades of inactivity.
Purchasing property is a serious investment, so fully understanding the assets and liabilities associated with the purchase of a property is essential. These old easements are generally listed as exceptions to the title policy. The buyer should request these documents from their title company and review the language carefully with an attorney. Without careful review, a buyer may not realize a permanent easement exists under the old growth of an oak grove that was part of what incentivized the buyer to purchase this particular property in the first place. An old easement may surface as a serious liability to the value of the property, if a company, without notice to the landowner, decides to maintain or construct on its old easement by cutting down all those trees.
This is exactly what happened recently to some of my clients. In one situation, my clients came home to find that a pipeline company had cleared more than a 100-foot wide strip of old growth trees right in front of their home. The company said it needed to “maintain” its easement to install some corrosion control devices. In another case, a company cleared multiple 50-year-old native oak trees in order to install a new pipeline. In both cases, the companies had blanket easements on the properties. In each case the owners were not aware of the old easements when they purchased the properties.
By reviewing the current easements on a property, we have helped landowners identify the current liabilities and their legal impacts, and advised them whether better terms may be negotiated with the easement owner. For example, we recently re-negotiated an old blanket easement on a client’s property to define the exact location and width of a pipeline easement, protecting the rest of the property.
Regardless of whether you recently purchased your property or you have owned it for generations, it is important to understand the easements that impact your property. With the assistance of an attorney, you may be able to avoid future litigation or the heartbreak of Losing your favorite feature on your property.