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Shared Driveway

Discussion in 'Adverse Possession' started by Papareis, Apr 28, 2022.

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  1. Papareis

    Papareis Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Jurisdiction:
    New York
    I own a house on a lake that was built in the 1960's. I purchased it around 25 years ago.

    The driveway for the house is shared with the house next to me and is on my property up to the point where it splits. After it splits as it nears the two houses, one part goes onto the neighbor's property and the other continues to my parking area.

    The present owner is the son of the original owner who purchased his house in the 1960's and recently passed away.

    The driveway is dirt and gravel, and my neighbor wants to make improvements to smooth it out, and to redirect water that runs down the driveway during summer thunder storms and leaves ruts on his property. I have no interest in making the improvements (and footing half the cost) since the driveway is not in bad shape and the ruts are slight. He's retired, lives there alone, and has a lot of time on his hands.

    He tells me about his plans and does not ask for my input even though the driveway is on my property.

    He had some stone and gravel placed in part of the driveway once several years ago when I was not there (It's a vacation home). I didn't make a big deal out of it since it didn't hurt things and I didn't want to start a problem and have strained relations with a neighbor who I see frequently.

    Now, he has additional plans. Does he have any rights to modify the driveway on my property, or does he have "adverse possession" that would allow him to make changes to the driveway?

    His use of the driveway is not exclusive.

    Thanks!
     
  2. adjusterjack

    adjusterjack Super Moderator

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    First thing you need to do is search the county property records back as far as possible and see if there is a recorded easement between the two properties. If there is one it will tell you what the rights and obligations of the property owners are.

    When you come back with the results please upload an aerial view of the two properties so we can see the position of the driveway.
     
  3. welkin

    welkin Active Member

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    He would not have claim to adverse possession by virtue of the fact that you have given him permission to use the driveway for at least 25 years.

    Take Jack's advice and also read your deed and your neighbor's deed. You can find the deeds at the county registrar's office.
     
  4. Papareis

    Papareis Law Topic Starter New Member

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    I have uploaded a jpeg with two images. The top shows the property lines from the tax map and the bottom is an aerial view from Google. The blue colored-in parcel is my property. The next parcel to the east (right) is my neighbor.

    Tress obscure most of the structures in the overhead view. However, you can see a red-roofed house, which is mine. My neighbor's house is about 50 feet to the east under the trees, and can't be seen.

    Just before we purchased the house, the previous owner added an easement to give the neighbor the legal right to access his property through an easement. Since they were friends, no one gave the driveway any thought until they were selling (and we were buying) the parcel.

    I recall that the easement says that the neighbor has the right to use a strip of land that is 15 feet wide, running along the east property line. Other than that, I don't recall any details.

    The driveway, however, is actually centered in our parcel, beginning in the middle of the north property line (the lot is 85' wide) and running down the middle of the parcel. The driveway does not turn and intersect the easement until the driveway is about 90% of the way to the parking areas for his house and mine.

    Most of the easement as actually described in the easement agreement is in the woods well away from the driveway. There are several survey markers that locate the property line along this side. Either the easement was sloppily constructed/described or just the mention of an easement is sufficient to grant one, which would surprise me.

    The sharing of driveways in this area is common as these buildings are "camps" on the lake, though we use them year-round. The houses are in the mountains and there tends to be a great deal of snow. Since we both use the driveway, we have split the cost of plowing over the years. However, his plan to make changes to the driveway are not acceptable and, if he has no right to make "improvements" to a driveway that is not in the described easement, it would be good to know that.

    The easement agreement is mentioned in our deed. I called the county clerk and they are going to mail a copy of the actual agreement to me so I can see if there are any other rights or obligations I need to be concerned about.

    Thanks again for your continued input on this.
     

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  5. zddoodah

    zddoodah Well-Known Member

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    We have no way of knowing because we've never seen the relevant deed or other relevant documents.

    Adverse possession is a way of acquiring ownership of someone else's property, so this question doesn't make sense in context, and I can only assume this is basically the same question as the first part.

    It's not clear what your ultimate goal is here. You indicated your neighbor has made plans and has, to at least some extent, shared those plans with you. However, you haven't expressed how you feel about the plans, except to say that you have no interest in paying for anything. However, again, you haven't told us whether you've conveyed your disinterest to your neighbor. Ultimately, if you're ok with what your neighbor wants to do and he's ok with you not contributing to the cost, then there's no issue here. On the other hand, if you don't like what he's proposing, then make that clear to him. If you see any activity that indicates he's going forward without your permission, get legal counsel involved.
     
  6. adjusterjack

    adjusterjack Super Moderator

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    Good.

    Upload a copy as soon as you get it.

    Redact any identifying information.
     
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  7. Papareis

    Papareis Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Thanks. I'll upload it as soon as I get it.

    My objective is to know how to respond when he brings up his desired improvements again ... as I expect he will.

    My response would depend on what (if any) rights he has over a driveway on my parcel used for years by both houses. It doesn't sound like he has any rights.

    There's an easement but the driveway in question is not within the bounds of the easement. The neighbor may have some legal right of access via the defined easement but presently, the easement runs through the woods on a sloped hill, and is not part of the driveway. The easement would need to be cleared and developed as a road/driveway to be of use to him.

    I don't want to be adversarial, but I don't want to be steamrolled either by him claiming rights he doesn't have.
     
  8. zddoodah

    zddoodah Well-Known Member

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    That seems unlikely. At the very least, he appears to have a license or easement to use the driveway for ingress and egress.

    He can claim anything he likes. If he claims something you're not on board with, tell him you'll consider it and get back to him (maybe after consultation with an attorney).
     
  9. adjusterjack

    adjusterjack Super Moderator

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    Idle speculation is a waste of time until you post the document.
     
  10. OldSurveyor

    OldSurveyor Member

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    On another matter, not legal, a more recent aerial view is available.

    In Google Earth, it is possible to click the "View" selection at the top of the display, and then select the "Historical Imagery". Often times, a more recent view might be available. Past views might also be available.

    In this case, the more recent view provides much less leaf cover.
     
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  11. Papareis

    Papareis Law Topic Starter New Member

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    I finally received a copy of the easement agreement that I mentioned above. A copy has been uploaded.

    First, the easement that I recalled to be 15 feet wide is actually described as 16 feet. Minor detail.

    Second, there were some other aspects of the easement related to maintenance that I did not recall since I had not seen the agreement in more than 20 years since I bought the property.

    Although the driveway that runs down the middle of the lot was in existence at the time the easement agreement was written, the agreement calls for the construction of a (new?) driveway/road in the location described in the agreement by the individuals who were parties to the agreement. Thereafter, they, and/or their heirs and assigns, would share the cost of maintenance.

    However, the original parties to the agreement never actually constructed an easement road within the bounds described in the agreement. Nothing was done. That space is presently sloped, wooded terrain. It's well away from the existing driveway's location until it nears my neighbors house. The parties to the agreement sharing the driveway just continued to use the existing driveway and ignored the terms of the easement agreement.

    Does the granting of an easement in a specific location (i.e., 16 feet along the property line) provide my neighbor with an easement/access to a driveway that is well outside the bounds of the description in the agreement ... along with the maintenance aspect of the agreement.

    As an aside, the original owner of the house passed away several years ago. My present neighbor is 78 years old and the son of the original owner. He is typically at his house alone so there's not much traffic or visitors. Given his age, I expect that will change at some point.
     

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  12. adjusterjack

    adjusterjack Super Moderator

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    I deleted your new thread. This one has risen to the top now. In the future adding to this one will bring it to the top.

    That's a poorly written document. I can't fathom it. Stick around. There may be others here that know more about easements.
     
  13. OldSurveyor

    OldSurveyor Member

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    I get the impression that the OP does not want to be participating in the construction of the new road envisioned in the already-existing easement, and also does not want to agree to the status quo by recognizing or memorializing some or all rights of the neighbor in the existing drive access. If that is correct, it may be time for the OP to enter into a conversation with the neighbor about getting the easement removed by mutual written abandonment.

    This easement agreement is a potential financial liability burdening his parcel. With the advanced age of the neighbor, a new neighbor might not be so "neighborly" and decide to go ahead with the construction of the new road, half of which will be paid for by the OP, including half of the maintenance in perpetuity.
     
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  14. Papareis

    Papareis Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Thanks for managing my post. I didn't realize a new post to an old thread would bring it to the top.
     
  15. Papareis

    Papareis Law Topic Starter New Member

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    The parties initially involved are specifically named in the agreement. The agreement says "The parties hereby agree to pay and share equally the original cost of the construction of the road, to be built by the parties hereto over said sixteen feet wide easement..." The parties/signators, then, were responsible for the road construction. They didn't meet that obligation.

    The agreement goes on to say "... thereafter for themselves, their heirs, distributees and assigns to share equally and pay each one-half of the cost of all future maintenance of said road..."

    So, in my reading, only the original signers were responsible for the road construction. They, and their heirs, assigns, etc. are responsible for maintenance only.

    There may be some legal principle that applies, but it seems to me that passing the ownership of the lot to others only requires the new owners to maintain the road (if it had been built), not to build one if the original signators failed to build the road.

    I am not looking for an excuse to give my neighbor a problem on using the existing driveway. However, if he proposes to do something I disagree with, I don't want to be bound to go along ... especially if it's not within the easement described in the agreement.

    He has already taken down two trees outside of the easement described in the agreement because he believes he had the right to do so. If someone had been hurt, or is hurt in the future due to one of his efforts, I'd be on the hook alone if the injury occurs on my property outside the legally-described easement.
     
  16. adjusterjack

    adjusterjack Super Moderator

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    That's why you buy liability insurance.
     
  17. Papareis

    Papareis Law Topic Starter New Member

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    That's certainly the case.

    Any comment on my interpretation of who's responsible for what in the easement agreement ... i.e., the original signers were responsible for building the road, and heirs and assigns are responsible for 50/50 maintenance only?

    Also, there are a number of articles on "Eight ways to terminate an easement" that I found. One of the bases for terminating an easement is if one of the parties fail to meet their responsibilities. Since the original signers never built the easement road, that seems to be a major failure on both parts.

    Maybe the easement is invalid?
     
  18. OldSurveyor

    OldSurveyor Member

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    Get some local legal advice on this.

    My reading is that the road proposed, with no specific date for construction, is an encumbrance on both adjoiners, whenever built. As you purchased your parcel with this indenture in effect, you agreed in writing pay for half of the cost of the road, whenever built, plus half of the cost of maintenance in perpetuity.

    The agreement for easement that you have posted makes neither of the original signatories responsible for building the road in any specific time frame, but specifically makes all of the "distributees, successors and assigns" responsible for all aspects of it. That means you and whoever your current or next next adjoiner might be.

    This is quite clear and should have been investigated and discussed with you by your attorney prior to closing some 25 years ago.
     
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  19. OldSurveyor

    OldSurveyor Member

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    Unlikely.

    The most likely approach to terminating at the least cost is by following my previous advice.

    As the original signatories to the easement agreement did not restrict themselves to a "build by" date the time is still undefined and still running for all of the "distributees, successors and assigns".
     
  20. Papareis

    Papareis Law Topic Starter New Member

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    My attorney told me there was an easement involved, but never told me the details. Since many lake-side homes have shared driveways, I didn't think too much of it, but I didn't know what I didn't know.

    The signers of the agreement are all deceased. While there was no time limit for them to build the road, their demise has, I think, effectively set a limit. The heirs and assigns are all that remain.

    I don't mind putting down a load of gravel occasionally to fill a hole (and paying for half), but I'd like to do so knowing if I'm required to do it by an easement agreement, or just because I'm a nice guy.

    I was also a little concerned by OldSurveyor's comment about a new neighbor possibly deciding s/he actually wants the road built. That's why I brought up the question on who's-responsible-for-what.
     

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