In Seattle, many houses share a driveway with an adjacent property. Typically, the driveway is created by an easement on each property running on either side of the common boundary. Each property is burdened by a five foot easement that benefits the other property, thus creating a 10 foot strip of driveway. Each property then has the legal right to use the driveway, and one neighbor cannot legally impede or impair the other neighbor’s reasonable use of the driveway.
So where’s the joy? Well, it’s really more like “joy” — as in “Holy $#%*, what a giant pain in the ^*$!” The fact of the matter is that not every neighbor gets along well with others. If you find yourself living next to such a person, the shared driveway can quickly become a flashpoint for conflict. Because you each have a legal right to use the driveway, you legally must cooperate as to its use. Such cooperation can quickly break down if there is some underlying dispute or existing friction. You may need to resort to litigation simply to enforce your right to use your own driveway. Litigation, of course, is neither pleasant nor cheap, and it certainly won’t help repair your relationship with your neighbor.
So how do you avoid this “joyful” arrangement? When purchasing property, you should always include a title contingency. This allows you to review the title commitment and identify any existing easements or other restrictions on title that may not be consistent with your intended use. If you need help in interpreting the title report, you should consult an attorney and not your real estate agent (another good reason to have both an attorney and a real estate broker on your team from the beginning).
If you see an easement for a shared driveway, remember that fences — not shared driveways — make for good neighbors. With such a contingency, you can then rescind the contract, get your earnest money back, and move on to another house that doesn’t include the seeds for a good ol’ fashioned neighborly feud.