The dTest Consumer Advisory Service has recently seen an increasing number of enquiries in the area of land law. These are situations where water pipes or sewers run under the owner’s land. Are you concerned about a similar situation? Do you know whether the owner of the network can enter your land and whether they have to pay you for it? And how does this restrict your use of the land? What can you do if they cause damage to your land?
If there is a water or sewer line or a water or sewer connection running under your land, your land is probably encumbered by an easement, known as a utility easement. This easement can arise in several ways, either directly by statute, by an easement agreement, or by preservation. This in turn gives rise to rights and obligations for both the owner of the encumbered land and the owner of the utility.
The owner of the land is obliged to refrain from anything that would lead to endangering the utility. After prior consultation, he must allow the authorised person to enter the land for the purpose of inspection or maintenance of the utility, for the necessary time and to the extent necessary. “Exceptionally, repair of a utility may be arranged without prior consultation with the landowner if the utility has been suddenly damaged and the repair cannot be delayed. In such a case, however, the landowner must be notified immediately of the repair and the site must be marked and secured,” explains Eduarda Hekšová, director of the consumer organisation dTest, adding: “If the land is damaged by such an intervention, the owner of the network is obliged to restore it to its original state at his own expense and compensate for any damage.”
Utilities are not registered in the Land Registry. So how do you find out if your land is encumbered by an easement? According to the Water Act, both sewers and water pipes are water works. The owner of the land on which the water work is located is obliged to tolerate the water work on his/her land, including its use, for compensation. However, compensation could only be claimed until the beginning of 2019. According to the case law of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court, the obligation to tolerate the existence of an old water works on one’s land is a so-called legal easement.
“In order to protect water and sewerage systems, protection zones are established at a distance of 1.5 to 3.5 metres from the pipes. The specific distance then depends on its diameter. In these protection zones, it is not possible to build structures, plant permanent vegetation, carry out landfills or landscaping,” warns Eduarda Hekšová.
Sewer and water lines should be distinguished from sewer and water connections. A sewer connection is a separate structure consisting of a section of pipe from the outlet of the internal sewerage system of a building or land drainage system to the outlet of the sewerage system. A water supply connection is a separate structure consisting of a section of pipe from the tap of a water main to a water meter, and if there is no water meter, then to the internal shut-off of the connected land or building. However, connections are not water works. Where the connection was constructed before 1 January 2002, the owner of the land or building connected to the water supply or sewerage system shall be the owner of the connection, unless proven otherwise. If the connection was constructed later, the owner of the connection shall be the person who constructed it at his own expense. And older connections that were placed on your property before 1994 became easements under the law.
It should be noted at this point that if a pipe runs from a well, it is a water pipe, not a connection. Therefore, it is a water work, the presence of which on the property must be tolerated if it was established before 2002. Also, the protection zones must be respected.
If there is a sewer or water line that runs under your property that was constructed after January 1, 2002, or a water and sewer connection constructed after 1994, it is advisable to enter into an easement agreement with the owner of the line or connection to avoid potential disputes. If certain conditions are met, the easement may also be held,” concludes Eduarda Hekšová.