Who is Responsible for Private Road Maintenance?

Who is Responsible for Private Road Maintenance? The responsibility of rules and maintenance of the streets falls to the homeowners.

By Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin

Q: No improvements have been made to our street in 21 years. It is my understanding that the road is sliced down the center by an imaginary dotted line. The homes on each side own the street to that center line and are responsible for maintaining it.

Does this also mean that parking on each side of the street is restricted to the property owner that owns that side of the street?

Who is Responsible for Private Road Maintenance?

A: You pose a question that we haven’t seen before. And, while it seems simple, it is actually more complicated than it seems. So, our answer will make a few assumptions – but please understand there are a myriad of variables that could change the answer.

Still, let’s take it from the top. In most parts of the country, the local municipality (city, town, or village) owns the roads and streets. Then in private subdivisions, the homeowner’s association generally owns the roads and streets.

In towns and cities, the local government sets up rules for street parking and enforcement. Likewise, in private developments, the homeowner’s association creates rules and regulations governing parking on streets. In some situations, some homeowner’s associations might grant enforcement rights to the local municipality.

We’re going to assume you live in an area where the streets are private. And the responsibility for the creation of rules and private road maintenance of the streets falls to the homeowners.

Easement Document Should List the Obligations

Because the street is owned privately, your lot extends to the centerline of the street, as do your neighbors’. (Not all private roads work this way. But it appears that in your case, you own the land to the center of the street.) So the question is what gives you and your neighbors the right to use each other’s properties?
Well, usually in these situations, the subdivision plat (which is the document that affects all of the parcels of land on the street or in the area) shows an easement that lists the burdens and benefits for all of the parcels of land.
This easement would likely set out the rights the owners have to use the easement parcel, which in this case is the street. Usually, the easement document will list the obligations the owners have to pay for the upkeep of the street. Along with things that any owner can and can’t do with the easement parcel. And, typically all owners will be able to use the street equally.

Parking on a Private Road

When you bought your property, you should have received a plat of subdivision or easement documents. See what they say about owners’ or visitors’ parking on the street. We can imagine a situation where the easement document states that all of the owners have the right of ingress and egress to and from their homes to the public way and that no owner shall take any action to impede other owners free access to use the street.

If this type of language is included in the plat or easement documents. You should be able to drive up and down the street without any issues. Does the document address parking? If the documents don’t mention street parking, that is an open issue.

But, this is why your question is such a good one. On the one hand, you own the land in front of your home, but parking in front of your home on the part of the street that is in the easement area could be construed as obstructing the free flow of the rights of others to drive up and down the street.
Think about it this way, if you and your neighbor across the street both park in front of your homes and there is no room left for cars or a fire engine to go through, then what? The attorneys who created these documents should have imagined these sorts of scenarios and addressed them in the documents.
So, look at the documents that govern your use of the street. Hopefully there is enough detail to determine what rights everybody has to park on the street.

Set up a Committee to Draft Rules for the Private Road

If the documents are silent. Then we generally advise addressing this on a personal level rather than from a legal perspective. You can set up a committee and work with your neighbors to draft rules that everybody can live with. Then, you and your neighbors can have an understanding of who can park where and when.
The same process should work when it comes to private road maintenance and upkeep. Except it’s always a tougher conversation when money is involved. You may find that your neighbors have no issues around money. And are as eager to repave the street as you are. Or, some may be less eager to go through the work and expense.
Look at the documents to see if they provide for a community-level responsibility for road or neighborhood maintenance and repair. Can you form an association? If the documents are silent, then call a street meeting (perhaps calling it a “block party” might be friendlier?) to discuss these issues and lay out some next steps.

Local Real Estate Attorney can Help Evaluate Documents

We have some friends that live on a private street that is facing similar issues. Their street is too narrow for cars to park on both sides. They’ve agreed to limit parking to the east side of the street.

However, some of the neighbors on the east side have put up signs and traffic cones to restrict parking to themselves. This seems inherently unfair to the homeowners on the west side of the street. These issues still aren’t resolved.

Your best chance of getting something done is to keep things friendly and come up with as inexpensive a solution as the problem warrants.

But if you can’t get your neighbors to agree during a friendly conversation, you may want to speak with a local real estate attorney who can evaluate your documents, see if you’ve missed something, and make specific suggestions as to next steps.
©2021 by Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin.