Can a utility company cut trees on a residential property without the owner’s permission? The short answer is usually yes, with some restrictions.
Because trees can negatively impact the delivery of power to other buildings and homes, utility companies will often have a right to cut and trim trees without permission.
Property Ownership and Easements
Businesses and homeowners may wonder what the boundaries are between any land that they own and what access the local city and/or utility companies might have to said land. Tree growth is one potentially fuzzy area where local governments and utilities may have some rights beyond the property owner.
Certain localities have environmental regulations that limit what can be done to trees on private property. For example, a law might be in place to require a permit for tree removal, with stipulations for new trees to be planted if old trees are removed.
In most municipalities and localities, utility companies usually have a right to manage trees that impact power lines.
The technical term for these types of rights is an “easement.”
Utility Easements/Easement in Gross
An “easement in gross” is a special type of easement that allows an individual or entity to legally access or use property owned by another entity. An easement in gross is a type of easement often utilized by utility companies to build, access and maintain power lines on or near residential and commercial properties. Easements are also used for telephone service, cable and gas lines. They are also called utility easements.
With an easement in gross for utilities, the contracts are quite often implied as opposed to explicitly written down in full. However, in order to access the modern conveniences of life, such as electricity and high-speed Internet, private property owners will need to indulge and accommodate utility companies.
The specific types of rights that the utility company might have will depend on local and state laws, but they will often include the following:
• Access to the property without prior approval. The utility company may be able to access the private property without the owner’s approval in order to conduct routine and emergency maintenance.
• Vegetation restrictions. Frequently, local laws are put into place that limit what private property owners can do with trees and vegetation, including gardens. For example, new trees may not be able to be planted in areas that might conflict with power lines and cables.
• Construction restrictions. In addition to vegetation restrictions, localities might also have construction restrictions. This means the private property owner could also have restrictions on the building of certain structures on the property, such as a new garage, fence or swimming pool that could impact access to utility lines.
Utilities and Tree Removal
It’s one thing when a utility trims tree branches to keep them from power lines, but what about how and when utility companies engage in tree removal? Who executes the tree removal?
The reason that utility companies prune and remove trees is that trees can be very detrimental to power lines. The trees must be kept at a certain distance from said power lines. The exact clearance distance will depend on the type of voltage used in the line and primary and secondary conductors.
Specific tree pruning practices are used depending on where the trees are located. Urban and rural tree clearing strategies are typically quite different.
One of the methods commonly used in utility tree pruning is directional pruning instead of shearing and topping trees. Directional pruning will guide the tree to grow away from the utility wires and is more attractive because no stubs are left. That said, directionally pruned trees may also look a bit funny, but they will likely still look better than topped trees.
Sometimes trees need to be removed entirely because they are at risk of falling and completely disrupting the power lines as well as the surrounding streets. These might be older trees that are now sick, dying or showing signs of root rot.
Tree removal is especially likely following a massive storm where wind might have dislodged a tree, or flooding could have killed the roots of the tree.
Utility companies themselves generally do not do tree trimming. Instead, they work with qualified tree service providers to manage the trees through easements. In this sense, the tree service provider is working on behalf of the utility company and therefore has the same right of access as the utility.
How Tree Service Providers Help Utilities with Tree Removal
Townsend Tree Service is one such tree service provider that works with utilities and local municipalities to manage trees and other vegetation. One of our primary responsibilities is to clear tree branches and debris from power lines, which we do both proactively and after major storms and hurricanes. Power line clearance is a specialized field that requires an immense amount of knowledge of trees and skill in implementation.
Townsend Tree Service also offers strategic vegetation management services to support short- and long-term planning of tree pruning and removal. With additional expertise in electric utility line construction, Townsend Tree provides well-rounded expertise backed by 75 years of experience.
We are more than a service, but a resource and partner that works to keep communication lines, pipelines and roadways protected. Our tree management experts can advise on the best ways to safely handle tree growth. Our hazard tree program is specifically designed to proactively identify and remove hazardous trees before they cause problems. This is done through a comprehensive inspection of the power line’s environment to identify dead, dying and dangerous trees. These trees are then cautiously removed before they can cause damage to the power line or worse, utility workers.
Townsend Tree Service is a leading, multi-state provider of expert tree trimming, line clearing and vegetation management services. We specialize in helping utilities keep the power flowing through proactive tree limb pruning and vegetation clearing. Learn more about our integrated vegetation management services here.