Q: I have a long driveway that I have to share with two neighbors. My neighbors have more frontage acres on the road but no driveway. My home is quite old and their homes are about 10 years old. My seller was too cheap to put in additional driveways when he had the other homes built. Can I make them put a driveway in and prevent them from using my driveway?
A: Before you try to force your neighbors into building their own driveways, you’re going to have to do some homework and understand a little about the legal rights your neighbors might have to use your driveway.
Your homework will be to search your files to see if you can find your title insurance policy from the purchase of your home. A title insurance policy discloses issues that affect the title to your home. That policy will show what mortgages, real estate tax issues, easements, and other legal documents that affect your home and land.
Look for a document that shows if your seller created a homeowners association for your home and your neighbors’ homes. Your seller also could have created an easement agreement for the shared use of the driveway. Either one of these documents could outline the rights your neighbors have to use your driveway but may also outline the costs they might have to share to maintain the driveway.
Finding those documents, if they exist, might be the easy part. If you do find them, you’ll know whether you’re stuck with your neighbors using your driveway and whether they will have to share in the costs of maintaining it.
Easements Govern Land Use
But what if you don’t find any documents that allow your neighbors to use the driveway? Your situation becomes quite tricky. In some cases, easements can be created due to specific circumstances involving the land and the way it was developed. If local municipal officials prohibit access to the main road except for the continued use of your driveway, your neighbors effectively would lose all access to their land if you cut them off. Therefore, when your seller subdivided the land and used your driveway to allow access for your neighbors, your seller’s actions might have been sufficient to create that easement right. But if the need for that easement later is eliminated, you might be able to claim that your neighbor’s right to use your property ended at that time.
Easement rights differ somewhat from state to state so you would need to consult with a local real estate lawyer further to see what circumstances apply to you and your neighbors.
While the legal issues here might give you reason to terminate your neighbor’s rights to use your driveway, you might also want to consider neighborly issues. If you have a community that gets along and you enjoy living in that community, think about why you are determined to terminate the easement. Are your neighbors doing something that disturbs your use and enjoyment of your home?
If you can terminate their right to use your driveway, but decide not to go that route at this time, you could still allow them to continue to use the driveway and give yourself the right to cancel the agreement at some future date if circumstances change. For example, if your neighbors build their own driveways, if they don’t share in the maintenance and costs of your driveway or if your home or their homes are sold, the easement could end.
This way, you might maintain your right to terminate their rights in the future while being neighborly today.
Dec. 18, 2008.