Written agreement is good idea to help maintain a private road


July 24, 2005

Q. We live on a 3/4 -mile unimproved (gravel) road known as Menges Mill Road in Taneytown in Carroll County. The far end of the road ends at farmland, so it's a dead-end road. There is a legal right-of-way through our farm to allow access for several homes behind our farm. There are 15 properties on Menges Mill Road, and about five behind our farm, who all use the road. (They also have another outlet at the far end of that area called Church Lane.)

The road is owned by the individual property owners, with most (or all) owning to the center of the road.

One of the homeowners behind our farm has been maintaining the road system but recently decided not to provide any maintenance because of the high costs of fuel, equipment repair and gravel. He explained that only a few (ourselves included) homeowners would contribute toward maintenance costs. Because of our friendship, he has promised to continue to take care of the portion of road leading through our property to the homes behind us (his included), but will no longer provide any assistance for Menges Mill Road.

Now we are faced with a road in poor condition (potholes, etc.) and a group of homeowners unwilling to do anything but argue with each other. I'm concerned that this may cause a problem in insurance costs and liability. Several "uphill" owners have decided to block drainage points along the road's edge, causing heavy rain to flow downhill on the roadway. This causes sections to wash out and is sending tons of gravel and dirt into the stream on our property, and that of our neighbor on the other side of the road, resulting in siltation of his pond.

We would like to attempt some type of written agreement that requires all the property owners to contribute to road repairs and upkeep, and the property owner who has done the repairs in the past (cheaply) is willing to resume if there is an agreement and payments.

Here are our questions:

What (if any) government regulations/agencies might be available to assist us?

Should we contact the state concerning the erosion problems?

Isn't each property owner required under the law to maintain their portion of the road in a safe and legal manner?

A. In general, there is no law that requires property owners who share the use of a private road to maintain the portion that abuts their property.

Each owner has a right to maintain all or any portion of the road but is not obliged to do so, unless there is a written agreement which spells out the maintenance obligations.

If certain property owners are interfering with the use of the easement or damaging the roadway by blocking the drainage of surface water, these owners may be enjoined by a court from the harmful activities.

A written agreement defining the rights and obligations of the abutting owners is definitely a good idea.

A well-maintained road likely would increase the values of all the affected properties. Even if all owners would not sign the agreement, it would at least bind those who did.

The agreement, if properly drafted and recorded, also could bind future owners of the abutting properties. Absent a written agreement, some neighbors could agree to pay for minimal maintenance (such as filling potholes), so the road remains passable.

It's a shame that the neighbors who depend on this road can't get together and arrange for reasonable maintenance.

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