Utility crews leave damage behind, frustrating homeowners

KPRC 2 Investigates looks into your rights when it comes to utility work on your property

HOUSTON – One of the most common complaints we hear is utility companies working in neighborhoods and leaving damage or messes behind. Even identifying which company is responsible can be a challenge, much less trying to get them to clean up after themselves.

Our KPRC 2 Investigates team has some information to try and make it easier.

Utility crews dig up yards, leave mess behind

KPRC 2 Investigates utility work in neighborhoods around Houston. (Copyright 2023 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

In neighborhoods all over the Houston area, utility crews are working. Some are installing fiber lines or upgrading infrastructure. A lot of times, this work requires digging up your yard or moving heavy equipment through your property. In one Kingwood neighborhood, it’s clear there’s a lot of work going on. Yard flags and spray paint marking underground lines are signs of future work to come. We found different utility companies working on several streets.

Several people from the community messaged us. Petra Ringeisen showed us this mess she says a utility company left along these popular neighborhood trails.

RELATED: Who is responsible for property damage when a utility company makes a mess?

“With the destruction off the green belts, we lose a lot of the green, we lose trees, just all kinds of plants. You have ruts. And then, back there is where the box is just laying on the side,” she explained. “You can’t really fix that. It’s going to take mother nature years upon years to.”

[Comcast says the damage in this greenbelt area is not from their crews or subcontractors. We also sent pictures and maps to CenterPoint to ask if their crews did work in that spot. They did research and also say this is not work done by their crews or subcontractors.]

Other neighbors sent us pictures of damaged yards, broken equipment, and reports of missing pets from gates left open. But with several companies working in this area, most using third-party contractors, the people who live here don’t know who to hold accountable or how.

Find a mess? The project may not be complete

KPRC 2 Investigates utility work in neighborhoods around Houston. (Copyright 2023 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

When we sent pictures of some of the mess to Comcast, a representative told us this project, the green box with cables sticking out of it, is not yet complete and it might be days until they get back to it.

This is one thing utility workers told us. When people complain a mess was left behind, oftentimes it’s just that the workers are not done with the project yet.

Can utility workers go on your property to do work?

The Texas Utility Code says companies can access private land to use easements for work on things like cable lines, internet, and sewage. But there is no timeline or rule that says how long they can take to get a property back to its original condition or required communication with homeowners.

KPRC 2 Investigates utility work in neighborhoods around Houston. (Copyright 2023 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

CenterPoint told us when they do work in any community, they mail letters and knock on doors to let people know. Also, any subcontractors should have a sign that says they are contractors with CenterPoint. But again, there is no requirement that they do this.

How can you identify what utility company is in your yard working?

KPRC 2 Investigates utility work in neighborhoods around Houston. (Copyright 2023 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

SEE MORE: Ask Amy show notes: Utility work in neighborhoods and your rights

There are some resources for possibly getting help:

  • The Public Utility Commission’s consumer protection division can help you identify the right utility company doing work in your area.

Consumers can contact the Customer Protection Division by emailing customer@puc.texas.gov or calling (512) 936-7120.

  • If you live in the City of Houston you can contact the utility complaint line (City of Houston Utility Regulation) at 832-393-8591 or email at utilitycomplaint@houstontx.gov. More information can be found here.

While both companies told us they don’t have regulatory authority in these situations, they may be able to help identify which utility is doing work in your area.

Statement from City of Houston:

“The City of Houston is sympathetic to residents who find their property disturbed after underground cable installation. Unfortunately, this is not something that requires a permit or permission from the city. The city does not own or control utility easements located adjacent to private property. If there is an issue with the work being performed or the condition in which the property is left, complaints should be lodged directly with the company performing the work.”

Statement from the Public Utility Commission of Texas:

“The PUCT does not maintain authority or jurisdiction over this type of activity. It’s possible local governments would have local rules or ordinances governing such work, but you’d need to contact those entities.

“While the PUCT does not have regulatory authority in these situations, the Customer Protection Division can be of help to customers. CPD has assisted customers by identifying what company is actually performing the work and relaying the needs of the consumer regarding their disturbed property.

“Consumers can contact the Customer Protection Division by emailing customer@puc.texas.gov or calling 512-936-7120.”

Comcast information

Comcast teams (and contractors) meet with HOAs and residents where we are building or about to build. Comcast contractors’ vehicles are marked, and so are their vests. The signage states “Comcast Authorized Contractor.” The crews have cards on them that includes a phone number resident can call to reach a foreman working on the project.

Comcast’s next-generation expansion plans for the Houston area explain the larger project. ComcastTexas.com/Expansion has Kingwood-specific information.

From this website information:

Over the course of this year, they’ll be building a next-generation network to bring Xfinity services to all of Kingwood. What does that mean? You’ll likely see us in your neighborhood in the months to come. How will you know it’s us? You’ll notice orange flags and paint by Texas811. You’ll also likely find materials from us in your mailbox or on your doorstep.

“We’ll continue to update this website as we gather more information on a specific timeline. Availability to sign up for and access services will depend on completion. Our team will work with residents to keep them informed. For questions or concerns about construction work being performed in Kingwood, please contact our business partner - The Aspen Company via email at Xfinityinfokingwood@theaspencompany.com.

“If there are any damages to your property in Kingwood, please contact our business partner - The Aspen Company via email at Aspen_damages_kingwood@theaspencompany.com.”

CenterPoint Energy information

CenterPoint Energy is committed to providing safe and reliable service to the communities we have the privilege to serve. Our skilled electric and natural gas crews work every day to maintain and enhance our systems across the greater Houston area.

When conducting natural gas construction projects, CenterPoint Energy mails notification letters to area customers approximately two weeks before the construction project begins. These letters include CenterPoint Energy contact information, usually a company inspector, who will be the primary point of contact for inquiries about the project. The construction contractor will also leave door hangers with their company’s contact information.

In addition, when a customer’s electric service will be interrupted due to scheduled enhancement work, CenterPoint Energy mails customer notification letters approximately ten days prior to the scheduled outage. These letters provide a specific date for the planned work, as well as a “Rain Date,” which is an alternate date in case the work needs to be rescheduled due to bad weather. The letters also have a CenterPoint Energy contact name and phone number for additional information. Customers who are signed up to receive Power Alerts Service notifications, also get two email reminders: one five business days prior to the scheduled outage and another one the day before.

For some smaller scale work that needs to be completed safely and quickly to restore service to our customers, and not in response to an emergency, CenterPoint Energy personnel and/or our contract crews will go door to door notifying customers. If the customer is not at home, crews will leave a door hanger with information about the work, including date, start time and expected duration of the outage, as well as how to contact CenterPoint Energy.

Please note that work needing to be completed to restore service to our customers during an emergency situation may not involve letters or prior notification.

We at CenterPoint Energy take safety and security concerns of our customers and communities very seriously. Unfortunately, from time-to-time people attempt to impersonate utility company employees in an effort to gain access to someone’s home. All CenterPoint Energy employees and contractors carry identification badges. If the badges are not visible, they will show them upon request.

Customers should know that:

• All of CenterPoint Energy’s operations’ vehicles are marked with the CenterPoint Energy logo.

• Vehicles being used by CenterPoint Energy contractors should be marked with a sign identifying them as contractors for CenterPoint Energy; the sign contains our logo.

• If a customer has any doubts about whether someone is a CenterPoint Energy employee, they should ask to see their identification badge.

• If there is still a doubt or any other issue, even after seeing an ID badge, customers should call local law enforcement.

• In most cases, it is not necessary for our employees to enter the home, apartment or business as most of our work is done outside on electric and natural gas lines. However, in some instances it is necessary for our natural gas employees, when restoring natural gas service, to enter a home or business to relight pilots and ensure it is safe to resume natural gas service.

Customers can contact CenterPoint Energy Customer Service at any time and ask about a specific project or work being done in their neighborhood or area. Here are some important numbers for greater Houston area customers:

Houston, Texas - Natural Gas

• Customer Service: 713-659-2111 or 800-752-8036

• Report a Gas Leak: 713-659-2111 or 888-876-5786

• Call Before You Dig: 811

Houston, Texas - Electric Delivery

• Customer Service / Report an Electric Power Outage: 713-207-2222 or 800-332-7143

• Report Downed Power Lines: 713-207-2222

• Report Electricity Theft: 713-207-7225 or 877-570-5770

• Report a Street Light Outage: CenterPointEnergy.com/outage

• Find an Electric Service Provider: 866-PWR-4-TEX or powertochoose.org (We deliver but do not sell electricity)

• Call Before You Dig: 811

• To sign up for Power Alert Service, visit www.CenterPointEnergy.com/PowerAlertService

About the Authors:

Passionate consumer advocate, mom of 3, addicted to coffee, hairspray and pastries.

Award-winning TV producer and content creator. My goal as a journalist is to help people. Faith and family motivate me. Running keeps me sane.