From time to time, underground utility facilities or lines need to be repaired, replaced, or updated. And while almost all homeowners prefer for their utility services to be underground, many of them what no repair, update, or replacement to occur in front of (or behind) their house. I liken this to when someone buys a home under the landing pattern for an airport for thousands less than it might be otherwise, and then sues the airport over noise. Some people want everything for themselves. And once they have it, they want to deny it to others. A far better approach is to acknowledge the inevitability of, at some time, having underground utility work at your home site. And to know your rights and responsibilities.
I have personally been in the underground utility construction business for about six years, and have worked in five states. The areas that seemed to have the most friction between utility workers and homeowners seemed to be Florida and California, although Oregon, Washington, and Idaho have some also. Some people seem to think that grass is the most important thing in the Universe. And many take the “not on my property” approach. Of course, most people are fine with work that needs to be done, as long as the crews are professional in how they do it. It is the exception that I am hoping to enlighten.
First, let us talk about easement. Rest assured, no matter how much you have planted, how much you have built or landscaped, there is still a utility easement. Usually, it is in the front of properties, although it is sometimes in the rear. Depending on the street you might be fronting and the local ordinances, it may be anything from 5 to as much as 50 or more feet. If it is in the rear, it can be from 5 to about 20 feet, give or take. We workers encounter homeowners who yell “you can’t dig on my property” from time to time. And we go through the same different versions of the same routine. We explain what we are doing, and that we are obligated to do it. if the argument persists, we inform that they are obligated to let us. Usually, this is all that is needed. I know of a few occasions when there had to be police involvement, although every attempt is made to rectify a situation before that is required. I have never yet heard of a situation where we did not go forward with the work after everything. My point is that it is far easier for all to accept it and to do the best they can.
Now, let’s talk about the responsibilities of the crews doing the work. Most crews are professional and strive to do a good job. Some aren’t, and strive to do as little as possible to get paid. As a homeowner, you have the right to expect professional work and for restoration to be done after the install is complete. And although most don’t consider this aspect, you have the right to be secure. There can be concerns about theft and other crimes from workers. If you live in Florida, you should definitely be concerned. There is no standard at all for hiring workers concerning homeowner security. Here in the Pacific Northwest, employees are required to undergo a background check. and to be subject to drug testing. In Florida, Texas, California, and others, there are no such regulations, for the most part. This should be changed, as utility workers have more than enough opportunity to see what valuables may be at a location. they also have the chance to see patterns, to tell when houses are not occupied. Every homeowner should demand of their local utilities that they screen employees. And every homeowner has the right to demand that restoration be completed after the work is done.
In closing, it is far easier for all involved to be aware of the concerns of the other parties and to do their best to be accommodating.