Texas Supreme Court Rules Against Landowners

By Carly Barton, Attorney & Counselor

If you have ever been concerned about how much latitude an easement holder has on your property, the Supreme Court of Texas recently decided an important case that could affect landowners with certain types of easements on their property.

In Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) v. Kenneth Lynch, the utility company owned an old transmission line easement that had no defined width. The issue came to a head when the utility company decided to modernize its line. To do so, they needed more right-of-way, further encroaching on the landowner’s property. The landowners presented evidence and argued that SWEPCO’s historical use of a 30-foot wide easement fixed their rights to only that width. SWEPCO argued that since the original grant of the easement did not include a width, they had a general easement that allowed them to expand their right-of-way without compensation to the landowner or new easement terms.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court decided the specific language of the easement was not ambiguous and it did not matter how SWEPCO has used the easement in the past.

What can landowners do?

First, the Supreme Court did not leave the landowners with no recourse. In its opinion, it cautioned that the holder of the general easement still must “utilize the land in a reasonable manner and only to an extent that is reasonably necessary.” If a landowner believes that the easement holder is excessively overreaching and/or burdening their property too much, they may have legal options to test their belief.

Second, it is important to look at the exact language of any easement on your property. Sometimes the easement contains key language that can distinguish it from a “general easement” like the one in the SWEPCO case.

Third, a landowner can try to negotiate better terms with the easement holder. By defining the width and more specific provisions in the easement, landowners can protect their property for generations to come.

Lastly, consider consulting with an attorney experienced in easements who can help you assess your options when dealing with a general or blanket easement. The lawyers at Braun & Gresham, PLLC have the experience, skill and knowledge to help landowners protect their lands. Please contact us at (512) 894-5426 if you are interested in setting up a consultation.

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