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Greensboro homeowner feels ‘violated’ after utility easement issue

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Imagine coming home to find your locked fence taken apart and a stranger in your backyard.

It happened to one Greensboro woman, and now she wants other homeowners to know when utility companies can access your property without letting you know about it.

"I felt really violated as a homeowner," Robyn Gest said.

Part of Gest's backyard is also a utility easement. That means utility companies, such as Duke Energy, Spectrum or AT&T, can legally work on that stretch of her property

Gest bought this home on Forest Hills Drive in Greensboro knowing the easement was there.

"The entire time I've lived here, 11 years, I have never had an issue where people have needed to be in my backyard," she said.

Until the morning of May 18, when she came home from work at lunchtime.

"When I went out to investigate what was going on, there was this big, burly dude crouched down in the corner of my yard," she said.

Gest says she was terrified. The one way to get to her backyard, and the easement, is through a padlocked chain link fence.

"It was not until I was about 10 or 12 feet away from him that I could see that he had on a utility belt," she said. "I asked him how he was able to access my locked fence, and he stood up and told me very indignantly that this was an easement and that he had every right to be back here, and he just took my gate off the hinges."

Gest says the man identified himself as a Spectrum utility worker. But she's not a Spectrum customer and none of the utility boxes in her backyard have any Spectrum markings on it.

Gest was shocked to learn the worker was still allowed in her backyard.

FOX8 went to the Guilford County Register of Deeds office, who confirmed that utility worker did have the right to be on the easement at the back of her property without her permission

The question becomes, does a utility worker have the right to cross and dismantle private property to get there?

Gest called Greensboro police and the city attorney's office to get answers.

"They told me there was a lot of gray area," she said.

Greensboro city code says homeowners are allowed to build fences on utility easements. It also says those fences are "subject to removal."

But Gest is upset because her fence falls on her private property, not the easement, and city code doesn't say whether utility workers can cross private property to get to the easement without her permission.

Gest says she wants homeowners to know the same thing can happen in their backyards.

"Especially someone that has pets or someone that has children that are going to be in the yard will want to know who is going to be coming and going off of their property," she said. "And I truly feel like the utility companies, be it Duke Power, Spectrum, or whoever, has a responsibility, unless it's an emergency, to notify the homeowner if they need access to the property."

FOX8 called Spectrum's communications office to ask if the company has a policy for informing homeowners when utility workers need to stop by, but we didn't hear back.