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Call Kurtis: Can Utility Companies Dig On My Property?

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Eight-time Emmy Award winner Kurtis Ming is CBS13'...
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YUBA CITY (CBS13) — She’s not even an AT&T customer and doesn’t think they had any right to dig up her yard.

Debbie SanMiguel says an AT&T subcontractor dug up a big hole in her driveway and two more in her lawn in late July to fix an underground cable.

“I asked him for some paperwork and he told me, I don’t need any paperwork because they’re a very reputable company,” says Debbie.

She says they promised to restore her yard in a couple of weeks. But it’s been six and she’s not happy about what they’ve done to her property.

“I didn’t think they had any right to do that,” says Debbie.

Especially considering she’s not even an AT&T customer. But utilities do have the right to dig up your yard to gain access to cables or pipelines, under what’s called an “easement right of way.”

“It’s the right of someone else to come in and use a portion of your property for a specific purpose,” says Charles Strong, Chief Title Officer, Fidelity National Title Group.

And for many homes that’s 12 1/2 feet from the street. You’re forced to acknowledge it by signing your title documents when you buy a house.

But do they have to return your property to how they found it?

“Not necessarily, improvements that are built over an easement, they have a right to remove them in order to maintain their easement,” says Strong.

But AT&T said they’d fix Debbie’s yard. But here’s how her driveway sits, with a big metal plate, big enough to fit her toes. She admits she wanted AT&T to fix her lawn first but she says the workers’ two attempts to put down sod, haven’t produced green grass.

“It is wet under here from watering but it’s just not taking,” Debbie shows us.

And now, she says she can’t get AT&T to call her back.

“It makes me angry. It’s something we discuss every day,” says Debbie.

We contacted AT&T. In an email, they tell us:

The “….customer would not allow AT&T to repair the cement until the lawn was completed, so that has slowed down AT&T’s efforts on completing these repairs.”

– John Britton, AT&T Spokesperson

A week after our call…

Look! Her driveway is finally fixed. The new grass is in. But Debbie isn’t happy about the trouble she went through.

“I’ll never have AT&T,” says Debbie.

AT&T also tells us while they aren’t required to notify homeowners of any work on their property, it is their company policy to do so ahead of time.

AT&T Statement

Although there is no requirement to notify property owners of necessary work in Public Utility Easements, the company does require its contractors to always notify residents in advance of any work involving their property.

In this case, the property owner was notified and the driveway was repaired immediately after the resident approved of the related yard work, and we’re pleased that the situation appears to be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

Is there a timeframe as to when AT&T will restore a homeowner’s property back to normal?

The policy is to require contractors get the work done to the property owner’s satisfaction as quickly as possible. As you’re very familiar with the facts of this particularly case, I’m sure you understand why this makes more sense than universal across-the-board timelines that don’t take into account the wishes and opinions of the property owner or the specific facts of the situation.

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