Vermont Private Road Association Agreements
In order to remove the uncertainty surrounding this obligation, landowners should consider entering into a private road conservation contract with their neighbours. In this way, landowners can control the share and extent to which they are responsible for contributing to the maintenance of a common private road. A road maintenance contract may assign responsibility for snowplows, sorting, repairs and other important businesses. It may allocate liability proportionately on the basis of the length of the access road serving each piece of land, the number of lands served by the access road, the frequency of use by each landowner or on the basis of which the parties may agree. Instead of letting a court determine each party`s «controllable» contribution to the disputed maintenance costs, the parties can define their own responsibilities. Not only does this avoid the unnecessary legal costs of dispute resolution, but it transfers decision-making to landowners and ultimately achieves a better outcome on all fronts. While Law No. 123 guarantees that landowners can mortgage property served by a common private road without a road maintenance contract, it has not solved the fundamental problem. It is not clear what it means to contribute «rateably» to the costs of its maintenance. Since 1984, Vermont law has recognized that «if several persons enjoy a common advantage, all must contribute to reducing the burdens associated with the existence of the benefit.» Hubbard v. Bolieau, 144 vt. 373, 375-76 (1984). In other words, neighbours who individually benefit from the use of a common private road must contribute to their maintenance and upkeep in a «tariff» manner.
This rule of law was adopted in 2012 by the passage of Law No. 123 to comply with The Federal National Mortgage Association`s Opinion 8-01, which banned mortgages for real estate accessible by private road without a road maintenance contract. 19 See S.A. § 2701-02. In the absence of an explicit agreement or requirement concerning the maintenance of a private road, where more than one person enjoys a common advantage from a private road, any person shall contribute adequately to the maintenance costs of the private road and shall have the right to bring a civil action to enforce the requirement of this section. (Added 2011, No. 123 (Adj. Sess.), § 1.) Many wooden frame houses are on land accessible only by a common private road. Sharing a private road with your neighbors can incriminate even the best friendships.
The simmering anger against private road maintenance agreements can provoke shouting at neighborhood meetings and even lawsuits. In one extreme case in rural Colorado, tensions were so high that neighbors threatened their neighbors with a pointed gun. Hatfield and McCoy-style showdowns are rare, real estate professionals say, but to avoid bad feelings — let alone potential complaints — it`s important to understand private road laws and understand what you`re getting into when you buy land accessible through a common private street…