Easements & Rights-of-Way FAQs

Easements and What they Mean to You

An easement is defined as a right to use land belonging to another.  Water Resources is dedicated to providing critical water and sewer services that protect the environment and public health.  The Town possesses easements for water, sanitary sewer, pump stations, storm sewer and electric utilities.  These easements are necessary to provide access to these utilities to perform routine maintenance and repairs to ensure the utilities operate properly and to meet certain state and federal laws.  

Sanitary Sewer Maintenance in Easements

The Town's sanitary sewer system is comprised of 266 miles of gravity main sewer lines, 38 miles of force main line, 32 pump stations, and 8,500 sewer manholes which convey wastewater to three resource recovery facilities.  The system collects wastewater from approximately 22,000 sewer customers.  The population of this service area is nearly 66,000 people.

Sanitary sewer mains and force main lines are primarily located underground and connected with a series of manholes.  Access to the manholes must be available at all times for maintenance and to respond quickly during emergency situations.  These manholes are located in public right-of-way or in center of the easements on private property.  The maintenance of these systems is required to ensure that they operate properly and to prevent wastewater discharges to the environment.  

The Town's Sanitary Sewer Collection System Permit WQCS00064 describes how the system should be operated and maintained.  Failure to follow the guidelines and regulations may subject the Town to costly civil penalties and jeopardize the Town's permit.

Inspection and maintenance of the Town's Sanitary Sewer Collection System is conducted by the Water Resources Operations division.  

What is a Sanitary Sewer Overflow (SSO)?

A sanitary sewer overflow (SSO) is the discharge of raw wastewater from the sewer system out onto the ground or adjacent creeks, streams, or rivers.  The principal causes of an SSO are flushing wipes and the buildup of fats, oils, and grease.  The Town's maintenance program helps to reduce the number of SSOs that occur, but some SSOs cannot be prevented.  Heavy rainfall events or improper materials may also cause a blockage and create an SSO event.  

What can I do to help prevent a SSO or backup / blockage?

There are many things you can do to help prevent SSOs or backups and blockages.  Visit the Water Sewer Service Information page to learn more.

How do I know if an easement exists on my property?

Easements are dedicated portions of private property dedicated for public use.  Sanitary sewer easements overlay the location of a sewer main on a property and provide the Town right of access to the property for inspection and maintenance purposes, which is a requirement of the Sewer Collection System Operating Permit.  Easements are developed at the time of utility construction or when property is subdivided for use.  Easements are often illustrated on subdivision plats, property surveys, and described on the property deed.  

Where can I find a copy of a subdivision plat or deed?

To locate a subdivision plat or deed visit iMaps (an interactive map of Wake County provided by the City of Raleigh and Wake County) https://maps.raleighnc.gov/iMaps.   Enter your address in the search bar on the iMaps site.  Photos, documents (such as deeds and plats), tax info, services, and information about the property are provided for the property on this site.  

Why is maintenance of the sanitary sewer in the easement on my property necessary?

State and federal laws require the Town to maintain the sanitary sewer system in an effort to prevent SSOs.  To conform with these laws the Town is required to inspect, clean, and maintain a portion of the 266 miles of sewer line each year, a total of 10 percent of the system or approximately 27 miles.

Why does the Town remove trees and brush from the easement?

Roots from trees and brush can intrude into the pipe and cause damage and backups.  Trees and brush must be removed from these areas to maintain access to the sewer line for maintenance work such as inspection and cleaning.  The clearing also allows the City to quickly access these areas with its equipment in the event of an emergency and minimize the impacts of a possible SSO.  After clearing the damaged areas will be re-graded and spread with mulch or sewn with grass seed.

Why do trees and brush need to be cut down if there is no emergency?

The Town takes proactive measures to clear easements so valuable time is not spent removing trees and brush at the time of an actual SSO event.  Removing at the time of emergency causes a larger threat to the environment and increases costs and property damage.  

Will the Town remove all of the trees and plants from within the easement?

Sanitary sewer easements are 20 to 40-feet in width.   Normally no more than a 10-foot width along the easement center line is required to maintain access for inspection and maintenance unless excavation is required for a repair. In the case of repair and excavation the entire easement width is needed. Water Resources staff will discuss the treatment of "boundary trees" along the edge of the easement with the property owner.  These trees may be left in place until the sewer main is replaced by the Town under the following conditions:

  1. The existing sewer main shows no signs of tree or plant root intrusion into the main or manholes that will eventually cause a blockage and sewer overflow.
  2. The "boundary trees" are located within the easement such that they do not prohibit the Town's use of the easement to access the sewer main or manholes or cause damage to the main or manholes if the trees fall during high wind conditions.

How does the Town select easements for clearing?

The Town records easement maintenance progress and selects areas where there is substantial tree and brush growth that can cause damage to the sewer line and hamper access.  

Can I install a fence or other structure on an easement?

Per the Town's Engineering Standard Specifications no person shall place any part of a structure, any permanent equipment, or impoundment of sanitary sewer easement or mains.  Prohibited structures include, but are not limited to: buildings, houses, air conditioning or heat pump units, decks, garages, storage/tool sheds, swimming pools, walls, retaining wall mechanisms/appurtenances, and fences.

Upon prior written approval by the Water Resources Department, fences may be permitted across an easement provided that an access gate(s) or removable panel(s) is installed with a minimum width of 14 feet for residential properties and full width access for commercial properties.

No fence shall be installed on and parallel to an easement.

If I have a fence or permanent structure n the easement that has been there for a long time, am I "grandfathered" and allowed to keep them?

No, but where possible, Water Resources will work with property owners to allow existing fences or structures to remain that are parallel to the direction of the sanitary sewer main under the following conditions:

  1.  The fence or structure has not damaged the sanitary sewer main and all manholes are fully visible and not obstructed.
  2. The fence or structure is constructed of wood and/or metal materials that can easily be removed by Town equipment .
  3. The Town is not responsible for any damage to the fence or any structure on the easement. If the fence or structure on the easement is removed by the Town for any reason, the Town is not responsible for costs to repair or replace any of these structures.
  4. The fence is considered a temporary, non-conforming use of the Town's sanitary sewer easement and as such once removed by the property owner or the Town during a sewer emergency, the fence can not be reconstructed within the Town's existing sanitary sewer easement.

Who is financially responsible to remove a fallen tree adjacent to my property?  

If the tree was healthy before any natural disaster and it fell onto your property as a result of a natural disaster or “Act of God” then it is your responsibility to remove the tree and pay for any resulting damage to the property such as a fence or deck.   

If a healthy tree on your property falls onto a public easement due to an “Act of God”, the Town would be responsible for removing the portion of the tree on the easement; however, the Town is not liable for any damage to the homeowner’s property as a result of that fallen tree.

To learn more about insurance related claims for fallen trees, please visit the North Carolina Disaster Assistance Manual at www.ncprobono.org/disastermanual.

 How do I request an easement encroachment review?

To ensure the addition of any structure, fence, or plantings are clear of Town easements on your property please visit www.apexnc.org/eer and complete the easement encroachment review request. form.  The appropriate Department will review and respond in writing to the requestor.

An Encroachment Agreement may be required.  The Development Services department is responsible for preparing the Agreement. Encroachment Agreement approval requires Town Council action.  The fee for preparation and recording of the approved Agreement is $250.00 plus eRecording fee at Cost (currently $30.25).

Property owners are  also encouraged to contact their homeowners association and review the covenants of the subdivision, if applicable, prior to adding fences, plantings, or structures.   


Rights-of-way are the portions of the roadside used for utility placement and roadside maintenance. Large plantings within the rights-of-way also pose a threat to underground utilities and hinder repair activities.

 All easements and rights-of-way are indicated on property surveys. Homeowners are urged to check their property surveys before adding fences or plants to insure that the easements and rights-of-way are kept clear.

Right-of-Way Obstructions

View an illustration of the typical residential right-of-way (PDF).

Basketball goals, hockey nets, and other play equipment erected in the public street right-of-way in front of a home are a hazard. While we appreciate the outdoor recreation this equipment provides for youth and adults alike, they present a very serious hazard to those who play and/or drive in the street.

Section 14-28 of the Town Code prohibits the playing of games in the public streets and is enforced by the Apex Police Department. Town Code section 18-11 prohibits placement of obstructions of any kind within the street right-of-way. For safety and liability reasons, the Town of Apex requests that all basketball goals and other play equipment be removed from the town’s right-of-way. Play equipment which remains in the street may be removed by the Town of Apex without further notice. Thank you for your assistance in this matter.

For more information, please contact the Town of Apex Police Department at (919) 362-8661.

Drainage Problems

The Town of Apex maintains the stormwater drainage system on all town property and within public drainage easements and right-of-way along town maintained roads. If you have a problem with drainage on your property, please call (919) 249-3427 to schedule an assessment of the problem. If the issue lies outside of the public right-of-way and/or 10 feet beyond the end of the pipe, it is most likely the property owner’s responsibility.

If you live near a stream or creek or have storm drain systems near your home, make sure the streams, ditches and structures are not blocked. Blockages can back water up causing flooded streets and yards. Report blockages within the right-of-way to Public Works.