How do I allocate costs of repaving driveway between my two neighbors with easements to use it?

Whether the neighbors should help pay for a new driveway depends on preexisting agreements with them -- or whether you're ready to play hardball.

Question

Because of the configuration of our properties, my two neighbors have easements to use my driveway. I bought the house knowing that this was the case. However, with all the traffic along my driveway, the road is getting a bit torn up and needs to be repaved. Must I bear the costs of repaving the easement by myself?

Answer

Let's start with a bit of background. Private easements are a legal right to use someone else’s land for a particular purpose. If your title is burdened by an easement – or in your case, two easements – you have no choice but to allow your neighbors to use your driveway.

When you bought your property, your title insurance company and attorney probably alerted you to the existence of your neighbors’ easements. Sometimes, an easement-maintenance agreement will also be on file with the county clerk. Such an agreement would address this very issue; without it, you have no crystal clear means of forcing your neighbors to pay their fair share, since you own the primary parcel.

In a perfect world, your two neighbors would recognize the problem, just as you have, and offer to divide the costs in three ways. If they don’t come to this solution on their own, your first step should be to try to negotiate this arrangement with them. If one or both of them refuse, you have a few options.

Your first option is to do nothing, allow the roadway to further deteriorate, and essentially force them to the bargaining table. The downside here, of course, is that this will take time, and you also want to have a nice driveway for yourself.

Another option is to have an attorney write a letter to both neighbors essentially threatening to cut off their access to the driveway if they do not agree to a reasonable contribution. This will surely anger them, but might frighten them enough that they will contribute at least something to the renovation effort.

Your final solution is to actually make good on that threat – block their access to the driveway. This is truly playing hardball, in a sense, because a court of law would surely force you to remove the barrier to the driveway if your neighbors have a rightful easement allowing them to use it. But it would force your neighbors to retain attorneys to get a court to order your compliance. The time and money involved in such an action might convince them to come to the table with at least some cash to help you pay for the cost of repaving the road.

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