Shared driveways are a common feature of some real estate transactions. In most cases owners are reasonable and a mutual desire to cooperate with your neighbors usually ensures that the majority of shared driveways are used harmoniously and without any problems between the various parties.
But problems can arise, for example, where one neighbor encounters financial difficulties, leaving the other to shoulder the burden of repairs or maintenance. Or perhaps one of the neighbors disputes the need for repairs; or maybe a new owner fails to follow arrangements that had been agreed with the previous owner and blocks access with vehicles or even a fence.
A shared driveway is legally referred to as an easement: the right to use or access someone else's land, usually for a specified purpose. Often one or more owners may own part of the driveway, but they have common access to its full length. Maybe it is shared to allow one of the owners access to a garage, or to the property itself, which may be set back behind the neighboring homes.
But shared driveways need not be a headache, provided that you and your realtor ask a few important questions beforehand and that your attorney does full due diligence before the closing of the sale.
As the saying goes: forewarned is forearmed.
What are the questions that I should be asking the buyer?
- What are the current arrangements regarding the shared driveway and have those arrangements operated amicably between all of the parties concerned?
- What are the current arrangements regarding plowing and what were the costs over the past few years? Did any issues arise in the operation of this agreement?
- Have there been any other issues relating to repairs and maintenance during the past few years and what costs were incurred during that time?
- Are there any current or pending issues relating to repairs and maintenance for the driveway and what are the projected costs?
- Has your right of access been restricted or limited by any of the other owners during your ownership of the property, whether because of blocked access, unreasonable parking, or other issues?
And what is the work that the attorney should be doing on my behalf?
The attorney will carefully study the title report and the precise wording of the easement agreement, to ensure that the rights and responsibilities of the owners have been clearly spelled out. Close attention will need to be paid to the important issues relating to repairs and maintenance and the way in which these are addressed by all of the parties.
Secondly, where you have an issue such as a shared driveway, it is important to order a full property survey, so that you can see the property boundaries and the extent of any easements or encroachments, such as fences. These documents can greatly assist the attorney during this process and should be provided for them to review.
Ultimately, some careful due diligence and some probing questions can ensure that a shared driveway is a source of neighborly cooperation, rather than a cause of bitter contention. But it is always important not to assume that just because the current owner has been using the driveway, that you have the right of access - all of these things need to be checked and confirmed, by you, your realtor, and your attorney.
Who do you know who needs help in either buying or selling property today?
I have a passion for real estate, whether you are selling your own home, or you are looking for your next one - let me be the one who guides you through the process and takes the strain, so you don't feel the pain.
Picture Credit: Driveway by Rick: https://flic.kr/p/nzqSH