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Private Roads: Benefits and Burdens

Part 2 in a 3 Part Series on Private Road Maintenance Agreements in the State of Maine.  Last week we got some great information about the road maintenance agreements and lending in Maine from Phil Laughlin, of First Financial Mortgage.  This week, we're picking up the conversation with Jim Flemming of New England Title, LLC to take a closer look at the benefits and the burdens of private roads and private road maintenance agreements. 

PRIVATE ROADS DEFINED

DRIVEWAY: The easiest way to think about the benefits and burdens of a private road is to consider your own driveway.  Benefits: The land it’s on, presumably, is your property. You decide if it’s paved, gravel or dirt. You get to say who comes and goes on that piece of the earth. Aside from sight lines, your municipality has no governance. It's yours. Burdens: You bear all costs, liabilities and maintenance frustrations. It's yours. Road Maintenance Agreement? Unnecessary unless you do not own any part of the land the driveway crosses. If you do have a license or a Right of Way for the driveway, your obligations to the land owner are likely defined there. 

PRIVATE WAY: The next level of private road emerges if you have enough land and decide to build another house on the property, either for your own use or for sale. At this point, your “driveway” becomes very long.  Benefits: You probably still own the land under the road so the rights to access your own property are still guaranteed. You likely still decide if its paved gravel or dirt. Burdens: You bear all costs, liabilities and maintenance frustrations. You are responsible to keep the road clear in all weather. Municipalities become involved and may define your obligations more specifically.  (you can choose to not plow your own driveway, for instance, but you must plow your private road) Private Road Maintenance Agreement? Possibly required. You'll need town approval to put in a private road, and the municipality may or may not require a formal maintenance agreement. Binding other owners to maintenance costs on the road can be helpful but draws them into sharing the benefit of determining how funds are spent. The structure of the agreement will determine how much influence other property owners have in decisions on the road. If your are the land owner, you may prefer to keep the benefits of ownership to yourself.  If you are buying property on a private road, you at the very least need to know what to expect and what is expected of you with regards to the road. 

SUBDIVISION: The “Big Cahoona" of private roads is a subdivision. In the State of Maine, a subdivision exists in any cluster of four or more private homes built on the same parcel of land. Essentially, a subdivision private road is no longer a driveway, it’s a privately maintained thoroughfare. Or from the standpoint of budget and management complexity, a tiny town. Benefits: Shared ownership of the road. Burden: Shared ownership of the road. Costs of clearance and maintenance are shared by all property owners. Rights to access are very broad.  And everyone who owns property on the road has a say in how funds are used. Time, budget and organization of the details and decision making must be managed.  Road Maintenance Agreement? Highly recommended and often required, if not for lending, by the municipalityEach town has it's own regulations regarding subdivision management and it is very rare that no legal organization will be required. Many subdivisions ultimately transfer road rights to the town. In any case, as a property owner, you will want to have written guarantee that the road to your property is safe and clear at all times.  

NEXT WEEK: Part 3 - Road Ownership Defined and the Basics of a Strong Road Maintenance Agreement. 

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