A utility easement is an easement which gives a utility the right to use and access a specific area of a property. The area covered by the easement is usually clearly defined in the text of the easement, and the easement is attached to the property deed so that it will persist even when the property is transferred or sold. People who are researching the purchase of new property should definitely take the time to have the title researched to learn more about any outstanding easements and other things which may restrict the use and enjoyment of the property.
Utilities can request an easement for any number of reasons. A classic example of a utility easement is an easement which allows the power company to run electrical lines along a property, and to install utility poles if the property is long enough that the lines cannot pass over the property without support. The utility has the right to utilize a strip of land for the lines, and to enter the land to access the lines for maintenance and repair, which can include tree trimming, replacing rotted utility poles, and so forth.
Other utilities such as water and sewer companies, gas companies, and phone companies may request utility easements. For the utility, crossing land is often easier and cheaper than going around it, and if an easement deal can be worked out, it will save the utility money in the future. In other cases, a utility needs to cross private property to bring services to someone else, as for example when a lot is split in two and the back house needs access to water, power, gas, and so forth. Without an easement, the utility would not be able to guarantee provision of services.
When property is split or lot lines are readjusted, utilities may take an interest because the change may require a utility easement to address concerns about accessibility to utilities. Likewise, when land is being newly developed, easements may be put in place to accommodate the need for roads, utilities, drainage, and so forth.
Having an easement gives the utility the right to use the land, but the utility does not own it. However, the property owner may encounter certain restrictions on land use in an area covered by a utility easement. For example, if a power company has a utility easement, the property owner cannot plant tall trees in the area of the easement, because they could interfere with the power lines. Likewise, a swimming pool could not be dug out where there is a buried gas line.