Ah… the joys of a shared driveway

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 ligitation simply to enforce your right to use your own driveway.  Litigaton, 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 committment and identify any existing easements or other restrictions on title that may not be consistent with your intended use.  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.

About Craig Blackmon

I am an attorney in Seattle with a practice focused on residential real estate. I am also an owner and the designated broker of Quill Realty, a new model real estate firm. Quill provides its clients with both an agent and an attorney, so you can Sign with Confidence. And Quill charges less than a typical agent, so the client saves money as well. Craig on Google+

Comments

  1. This is the sort of post that keeps me reading this blog.

    One of the things that always amazes me is the Ballard townhomes which have that ‘alley in the middle’. Most owners don’t park in their garages (used as storage lockers) but rather in this shared corridor. It then impedes anyone else from using their own garage becuase the full width of the ‘alley’ is needed in order to turn a car into the garage.

    My friend had this problem, and she finally just gave up and now parks in in front of her garage as well. She did not have the time or stomach to mount a legal battle against the 7 other townhome owners.

    Something to think about if you are considering the now-popular townhome.

  2. Craig

    I have a personal experience with this.

    When we moved back to the Seattle area a couple years back, were in love with a certain development. Unfortunately, so were a lot of other folks and there was nothing on the market. When something came up, we jumped on it and got our offer accepted.

    As I was doing my investigation, I noticed a couple things. First, there was a shared driveway, not by two, but THREE owners. Second, the driveway always seemed a bit wet even though it was August. Come to find out, there was an underground spring that was bubbling up and causing the driveway to crack. It was not in bad shape but clearly would have to be dealt with in the future.

    I approached the neighbors because there was no road maintenance agreement in place nor even an easement agreement (developer goofed). One neighbor was pretty easy to get along with. The other kept dragging her feet and was clearly not interested in dotting I’s and crossing T’s.

    Even though we loved the house and the neighborhood, we walked away. I knew that if it was tough getting agreement on this piece of the equation, later discussions on actually spending money to repair would be disaster.

    Happy ending…the day we nixed the deal, another (better) house came on the market in the same neighborhood and we ended up buying that one…with our own driveway.

    The moral of the story is that shared driveways can work but only if there is a very clear and unambigous easement and maintenance agreement in place. Neighbors move on…but driveways don’t.

    Russ

  3. I’m not the attorney here…regarding Bud’s friend, shouldn’t she be active in “defending her property”. Is there a chance she could lose it to “adverse possession?”

    We have a shared driveway as well with our neighbors. It’s an actual s curve thru their lot to our garage and carport. The easement is in our favor. When our neighbors tried selling their home recently, I have a hunch the driveway probably scared a few buyers off. I’m sure it wasn’t us! ;)

  4. As a very, VERY general principle, yes, a landowner should “defend her property.” In the above case, the type of interest is not certain (easement? common area?), and moreover the owner still uses the alley but is simply prevented from pulling into the garage. Based on these very limited facts, I think it is highly unlikely that Friend of Bud (FOB) will lose her interest in the alley even if she take no action. However, this is not legal advice. FOB, if you have questions or concerns about your particular situation, consult an attorney.

  5. By and large, townhomes on the Eastside have common areas and exclusive use common areas and are condominium ownership.

    Townhomes in Seattle by and large are NOT condominium forms of ownerhsip and have no “common areas”. The owners own the land up the the middle line and have an easement over each others owned lots for ingress and egress purposes. The person parking in front of their garage is parking ON their own property…but blocking the easement access.

    I do believe any townhome situation where there are “common areas” would be classified as Condominium on the tax record. All of the townhomes I have seen in Seattle have been classified “Rowhome/townhome” and are not condominium forms of ownership with common areas.

    Another easy guideline is if they have a lot size. Condominiums should say 0 as in all land is owned commonly, and those that do not have common areas show an actual lot size. Exception would be a PUD which has both, but again, not likely you would see a PUD in Ballard.

  6. Puget Sounder says:

    http://www.smartusa.com/

    Best way I can think of to deal with Ballard townhome owners who insist on parking in the shared “alley”! Parallel parking is easy, too.

  7. Carole Janas says:

    I own the easement and my house is at the top. I back down the easement up into my neighbors driveway and go forward down to the street. He doesn’t want me to back up into his driveway and I don’t want to back down the long easement from the height of my SUV. Don’t I have ingress or egress rights. Afterall I allow him to use my easement.

  8. Carole — there’s no way to determine the rights of the parties without looking at the legal documents that create those rights. The documents almost certainly recorded at the county recorder’s office, so look there. However, if you want certainty in regards to interpreting those documents, I suggest you hire a lawyer.

  9. My wife and I live in Kirkland’s Forbes Creek-Juanita area and landed jobs in Seattle, and have been looking at the zero lot line townhomes, primarily since we would like new construction. Unfortunately, most are built with the shared alley/driveway and “two-car” garages. I suspected homeowners of those units would end up with “storage lockers” rather than garages. It is good to have my suspicions confirmed about the usability of these garages.

    We gather that it is Seattle’s purpose to maximize density and minimize car usage by encouraging builders to create this very car-unfriendly situation (while builders maximize profits on the parcel).

    I completely understand the need to reduce the number of cars in town, so I guess if we want to live there, we should adjust to the idea of just one car, the smaller the better. While two would fit in the garages, maneuvering them into the garage, while dealing with possibly three other neighbors doing the same thing at the same time, doesn’t seem worth the half-million-dollar-plus price tag.

    My bottom line is these garages are not really intended for two standard-sized cars, at least not for owners who want to easily park and use their cars. That fact is what makes me resist these townhomes. Who are they kidding?

  10. Why a laywer? Everyday people turn around in other people’s driveway and I never hear of a anyone getting a ticket for it.

  11. Hi Craig — I am looking at buying a tear-down. However the adjacent property uses a “driveway” (really an unpaved path between the two houses) that is entirely on the property I’d like to purchase, and which only serves the adjacent property. In other words, it’s not so much “shared” as “taken over”. The owners of the adjacent property built their house and outbuildings right on the lot line, and if I were to fence in the lot after purchase, the neighbors would no longer be able to get into their garage without rebuilding it to face the other way. Any advice on how to figure out the legalities of the situation before placing an offer? Thanks!

  12. JD,

    Did you check Title to be sure about easements? That doesn’t sound right. How did they get a permit to build on the property line.

    That being said, I did see a garage built up to the property line in Seattle about a month ago. A crime and a shame.

  13. JD — the best advice I can give is to hire a lawyer to analyze your specific situation. The adjacent property may have acquired an easement by prescription for use of the driveway, and if so you would not be able to construct the fence. An attorney may also have ideas as to how you can structure your offer in order to protect your interests in regards to this “driveway.”

    Absent hiring an attorney, you run a very significant risk of not fully appreciating the legalities of the situation. Or, in the alternative, you can just get advice from Ardell. ;) Give a call if you’d like to discuss further — I would be happy to help.

  14. LOL. I just want to know what the Title Report says about an easement. I’m curious to know if someone actually built a garage facing someone else’s driveway! Seems like a pretty odd thing for someone to do. At least the one I saw with the garage built up to the property, had the sense to put the garage door facing their own property.

  15. Thanks very much for the speedy response! I haven’t checked title yet. Is there a publicly available way to do so before investing money in lawyers and title companies? Or are we talking about an afternoon spent over a dusty file cabinet in some city office? I’m in the Catch-22 where I don’t want to sink money into investigating a property I have no interest in (because of the easement), but I won’t know if I’m actually interested until I sink money into it. Even if they wind up having no legal right to have taken over use of the “driveway”, it’s probably bad manners to move in and start pissing off your next door neighbor by not letting them park their boat in your yard anymore.

    FYI, the property with the badly placed buildings has never been sold, so I suspect it’s all grandfathered in. The outbuildings look newer (

  16. Yes, boundary disputes make for very bad neighbors…

  17. Yes, boundary disputes make for very bad neighbors…

    But they keep you employed!

    I found the King county records web site, and they do indeed have an easement, which they renegotiated in 2002 when they redid the “attatched” garage (where “attatched” means they put a long skinny section of roof across to the main house, to keep it legal).

  18. JD,

    Email me the address.

  19. JD,

    If it is a listed property, the listing agent will already have ordered preliminary title. If it is a FSBO or word of mouth house, then not. Any agent you know (and you must know several given how many King County licensees there are) can get you a Title Report and possibly even a Title Review by a qualified rep from the Title Company.

    But it doesn’t look good, does it? If the person next door can’t get into their garage without coming up that driveway…how much more do you really need to know?

    Over here on the Eastside, I’ve seen a shared drive that involved the garage doors of the front house facing the driveway, and that’s a killer for the rear house. The rear house was asking $1.3 mil. That’s a lot of money to not be able to get out of your property in an emergency if the neighbor’s kids friends left their cars out in front of their garage and took one car to go get pizza. Not allowed and not ever doing it, are two completely different things.

  20. Washingtonian says:

    I bought

  21. Washingtonian says:

    My neighbor used to own my house and his house next door. He built a structure in between both homes and has an easement agreement that allows him to access the part of the building that is on our property. He now wants to sell the other house and “exercise” his easement agreement. He says that we have 30 days to decide if we want to purchase the building. The cost of purchase would be determined by an appraiser. My understanding was that we had first right of refusal once he received an offer on the house. Further, this building extends into our backyard (beyond the boundary of the easement). I am assuming our best bet is to hire a lawyer?

  22. Washingtonian — you bet. There are a bunch of issues here (scope of easement, right of first refusal, encroachment) and a lawyer will be able to sort them out and give you advice. Good luck!

  23. We just bought a house we had been renting for years. When chatting with our neighbor, she claimed that the driveway is hers because she paid to have it paved a few years before we moved in. However, the title we just bought clearly says that we have an easement on her property (5 feet) and she has one on ours. She parks in the driveway nightly (on our property), which is OK with us because we don’t need the driveway anyway right now, but we are concerned about losing the property due to imminent domain. Is this a realistic concern?

  24. Curious — I try not to dispense legal advice via the internet, and besides unless you are in WA I am not authorized to render legal advice in your state. Accordingly, this is not legal advice. That said, as a general matter it would be difficult to lose your easement via adverse possession (eminent domain is when the state takes your property) unless your neighbor physically excluded you entirely from it (e.g. built a fence). If you’re concerned, though, you should consult a lawyer in your area.

  25. Hi Craig,

    Glad to stumble upon you! I live a 5 townhouse group with 2 in front and 3 in the back. The driveway is used by all of us and I’m sure we follow the same 5+5=10ft easement as described above. We just had a noisy, party-hearty young kid move in behind us and I’m curious where I stand when his friends are closer to my home than his? Do you think an easement extends only to traffic thoroughfare, or is standing on my easement while smoking ok. I know the littering is covered, but I’d love to tell him to back the #$*@ up. Any thoughts?

  26. Joe — Sorry, no legal advice via the internet (in part because I don’t even know if you are in WA). That said, the use of the easement depends on several factors, most importantly the language of the easement itself. If you’re serious about possibly enforcing your rights to the letter, you need to retain an attorney who can analyze your specific situation.

    One other comment: I’d be careful in heightening the conflict with a neighbor. Neighbor disputes can be exceptionally ugly and incredibly expensive (lawyers aint cheap).

  27. Craig:
    Yes, I live in Washington, yes, we have a shared driveway. The realtor told my husband it was just for the purposes of the home next door to get to the back of their property when necessary since they have a garage at the street level & parking on street level. However our home doesn’t have either. Nothing we can do about spilt milk now.
    When the neighbors moved in, they were very rude and matter of fact about us making sure we didn’t block the driveway. Since then, their family blocks it all of the time and tonight, they are gone and we are totally blocked in with 3 small children.
    I have tried to get the local surveyor over here to explain and show property lines to us, but no such luck and since one of their employee’s used to own both houses, I think they might be concerned
    Said neighbor has already backed into one of our vehicles and now left us without the ability to get out.
    All we want is out of the house, it has become such a sore spot between us and them and life is to short to fight over a driveway.
    Hubby says we have some more room to widen our side and then put up a fence on our line but that would cause a war.
    If we can’t get out & there is an emergency, what can we do?

  28. Jean — call 911. Give me a call at your convenience if you would like to chat further about possible short term solutions until you are able to sell the house.

  29. Jean wrote-

    “The realtor told my husband it was just for the purposes of the home next door to get to the back of their property when necessary since they have a garage at the street level & parking on street level.”

    I’d give your realtor a few knuckle sandwiches. Should have warn about easement rights and property law to you.

    My dad lost a good chunk of money on a commercial property for the same reason.

  30. I generally avoid giving legal advice via a blog, but I’ll make an exception here. Jean, I encourage you to NOT beat your agent.

    Q-diddy, I think you can make a pretty good argument that an agent should not discuss “easement rights and property law” with a client. That is the practice of law and probably beyond the legal authority of an agent to do so. Rather, the agent should have encouraged Jean to consult with an attorney if she had ANY questions or concerns about the shared driveway.

  31. Craig wrote: “That is the practice of law and probably beyond the legal authority of an agent to do so.”

    Beyond their ability too.

  32. Hmmm, not sure I agree with that completely, Kary. Assuming the agent has had some training (aren’t there “RE Law” classes as part of the agent curiculum?) and lots of experience with the issue, the agent could probably provide accurate insight into the rights and obligations of the parties with respect to the easement. However, I do believe that an agent has no legal authority to have that discussion and the agent proceeds at his or her own risk of engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. To do it “right,” the agent should refer the client to a lawyer.

  33. Isn’t it buyer beware? Of course hindsight is 20/20…but shouldn’t Jean have contacted the title company prior to the purchase closing to see how the easement would effect their property and what the rights were/are?

  34. Other than maybe describing what an easement is, I don’t recall any real education on easements as part of the licensing process. There may be clock hours courses that deal with it more. But I was picking up on your comment, which said “probably beyond the legal authority.” When you’re talking about thousands of agents, obviously some will be familiar with almost any topic.

    BTW, I’m not so sure this is strictly an easement issue. Shared driveways are prone to problems even without an easement being involved. Both could own their driveway in fee simple, and one owner could still be inconsiderate. So this problem could have occurred even without the easement.

  35. Rhonda wrote: “Isn’t it buyer beware? Of course hindsight is 20/20…but shouldn’t Jean have contacted the title company prior to the purchase closing to see how the easement would effect their property and what the rights were/are?”

    Basically, yes, but rather than contacting the title company, they should have contacted an attorney. The title company could give them a copy of any easements, but I don’t think they’d be likely to be that willing to offer legal advice. They might discuss coverage.

  36. Jean knew of the easement — she just did not fully appreciate the rights and obligations of the parties in respect to its use. I don’t know whether a title company would explain this to her. That is not their job. Their job is to identify the easement and call it out to the parties as an exception to the title insurance policy. Really, the person best suited for providing this information to Jean would have been an attorney. Of course, it is only natural for a buyer using an agent to turn to the agent for this information. As I explain above, the agent should have referred Jean to an attorney. Referring her to the title company probably would not have gotten her the info she needed (since she was already aware of the easement).

  37. Kary — no, I don’t think this problem would occur without an easement. If the driveways were side-by-side, and thus appeared to be “shared,” but were owned exclusively by each neighbor, then one neighbor could construct a fence at the boundary down the middle of the driveway. Problem resolved. It is the easement — and the legal rights that it creates — that prevents such a resolution and requires the parties to actually share the driveway.

  38. But it sounded like the agent made it appear the easement was no big deal. Is that not bad advice in itself?

  39. Q-diddy: Yes, that was bad advice. He possibly exacerbated the problem by giving this bad advice to his client. However, beating the agent is not a good response. ;)

  40. I’ve eaten 1-2 knuckle sandwiches before, they ain’t that bad. ;-)

  41. Kary, the title companies that I have worked with will provide details to what recorded easements instruct/provide when there is a title report.

  42. I should have added this to my last comment, at the very least, a Title Officer would tell Jean that the information provided by her agent is correct or incorrect with regards to who has what rights.

  43. Generally speaking the property line runs up the middle of the driveway. Look for 4′ on your Title. Most driveways are 8′ wide with each owning 4′, though I have seen a 3 1/2 – 4 1/2.

    Seems to me the agent likely had it right in his representation. Shared driveway; neither side is allowed to block the driveway. Given the neighbor has no place to park in the rear, they shouldn’t be using the driveway except maybe as a load and unload once in a while.

    They have the right to pass over it…not be IN it.

    Originally when the driveway easements were created, most homes had a small “garage” in the rear of the house and each would turn right and left into it over the shared drive. As people tear down their rear garages to make more yard or tear down the whole house in favor of a new house with a front entry garage, logic defies law.

    Logic (and sometimes the building permits) says the house that now has a front entry garage no longer needs to use the driveway. But the building permit for the new house does not change the property line from up the middle of the driveway, nor does it change the easement.

    That’s clear as mud, but quite common. Often one neighbor never uses the driveway and the other gets to park in it. But then owners change and that common arrangement is no longer in play.

    Easy to say don’t buy a shared driveway…but in Seattle, that is not necessarily an option for many people. Unfortunately not “allowed” to park in the driveway and not parking in the driveway are two different things. Being blocked in and not being able to get your car out is definitely a “war zone” situation. But I don’t see anyone at fault here except the neighbor who seems to be parking in a place where they are not allowed to be parked.

    What scares me most about Jean’s comment is her husband wanting to put a fence on the property line. Usually the easement would prohibit him from doing that, and clearly he needs legal advice before spending a dime doing anything like that. The only way that might be possible is if the neighbor would sell him the easement to eliminate it from title. Her husband seems to own all the land he needs to accomplish his objective, but clearly the easement must be extinguished, and likely he would have to pay the neighbor to remove it. It is an excellent remedy to the situation and should be pursued…here’s hoping the neighbor is reasonable in that regard.

  44. Craig, our prior house had the shared driveway, no easement situation. While one of our neighbors was rather bad in many ways, he was fairly reasonable when it came to the driveway. Despite that he did abuse the line, for a time we did consider the fence option, and even had the line surveyed. And also there’s the problem with friends parking in the wrong spot, which is a problem we both had. You can’t put a fence all the way to the road, and a lot of people park on sidewalks, etc. It really just depends on how bad your neighbor is.

    The point is, shared driveways are just a bad idea in general, with or without an easement.

  45. Ardell wrote: “Generally speaking the property line runs up the middle of the driveway. Look for 4′ on your Title. Most driveways are 8′ wide with each owning 4′, though I have seen a 3 1/2 – 4 1/2.”

    That would be an easement type shared driveway. Our situation was such that each driveway was full with, but just adjacent to each other.

    Also, to determine how much someone really owns, you’d need to have a survey done. Absent that I don’t think you could safely say one owns X’ and the other Y’.

  46. “Also, to determine how much someone really owns, you’d need to have a survey done.”

    Reviewing title is a lot easier than a survey, and if Jean can find 4′ somewhere the issue will likely be more typical than yours was. Let’s hope it is.

  47. The title will only disclose so much information and does not replace a survey. That’s why I think a buyer should call the Title Officer who has their “John Henry” on the title commitment to get more details.

  48. Title may be able to disclose the existence of a recorded survey.

  49. In States were surveys are customarily done anytime a property changes hands (our areas is not one of them) then survey is relatively easy. I have found that surveys are fairly rare in the Seattle area and as consequence, performing them is almost cost prohibitive and often unnecessary.

    A quitclaim of the easement would be a decent remedy. But given the propensity for this neighbor (Jean’s) to use the driveway, I doubt they will be willing. While their garage seems to have a curb cut, it’s fairly obvious that they have more cars coming and going to their house than the front garage and driveways and street parking can handle.

    Enforcing the current restriction which is that neither can park in the driveway, seems to be the issue. Sounds like even Jean herself does not obey that restriction and sometimes parks in it too.

    • Ardell, you are correct. We do park in the driveway because we have no access to the back of our property due to the neighbor has left an abandoned truck in the area we would use to get to our carport and numerous calls to code enforcement does not get the truck moved. It blocks our ability to get things in and out of our back door and God forbid our home ever catch on fire!

      We have no place to park besides our carport or driveway because our home address is on a street that there is no allowed street parking at all on either side & due to 2 recent back surgeries, I cannot walk up the hill and park on the street.

      We are pursuing contacting an attorney to see if we can buy the neighbors easement rights. It has mellowed out since she dumped her old boyfriend!

      • I’m happy to chat, Jean, to determine whether or not you can benefit from legal counsel (i.e. whether the benefits will hopefully outweigh the costs). Neigbor disputes can be very tricky… In any event, your neighbor cannot block your access to your property, as a general matter.

  50. Kary, I must be spoiled or demanding of the TO’s I work with since I was in that industry for 14 years. ;)

  51. matthew schiermeier says:

    I have a court hearing MOnday for my lovely shared driveway. My neighbor just doesn’t like parking in the rear of the home. She does not care that there is a recorded easement. She is ceratinaly a witch…..

  52. Andrew Le says:

    My neighbour appears ready to build on a part of a 30-feet easement, where there is a 12-feet wide paved road. He’s building in the other part, which is considered a sewer/utility easement.

    Can he do that? I want to be able to park on that easement but he’s already yelled at me for doing so since he think that section is exclusively is…

    Any advice? I’m in Wa state.

  53. Andrew,

    Most any property has a utility easement at the rear of their property, and that does not mean the neighbor has access to that land. Only the utility company, and only if and when needed, which is not often.

    Who owns the land? If your neighbor owns it “subject to a utility easement” then he is correct in telling you to stay off of it. If he is building something that would normally require a permit, I suggest you check to see that he did in fact get that permit. Usually your questions can be answered for free if you visit the authority in your area that grants permits. Sometimes it is County and sometimes it is City…so check both.

  54. Andrew, you can also try checking with the title company you used when you purchased your home. Ask to speak with a Title Officer.

  55. Andrew Le says:

    Hi Rhonda and Ardell,

    Ok, basically, on my plot map it just shows this generic line, “30 feet ingress, egress, utility and private side sewer esm’t private road to benefit lots 1, 2,3, 4.”

    Basically, the paved aslphat road is about 12 feet side.. and I guess the other 18 is the other part of the easement?

    Anyways, next to the paved road was about a 6 feet wide ditch, which I assume carried underneath my sewer and outgoing water lines… All my three neighbors along this road put dirt over this ditch and use it as their “parking” space. So I assumed I should be able to use the neighbor next to me’s parking space as well, but then he yelled at me saying that I only get to use the “private alsphat road,” which is thinks is what I am allowed to.

    SO, since then he’s parked a bunch of his cars and trucks on that parking space he made and now he’s putting some material leaning on my fence like some brick pavers, etc, and I am guessing he’s going to “wall/fence” off that section near to my entrance so that I can never park or even go into that area past the “private road.” Can he do that?

    Yes, that whole easement area belongs to him (and the other neighbor’s areas)… I’m the last house down this road and I have no easement on me…

    Any thoughts? Can I call the cops on him and park my car in his “space” and see what the cops can do?

    Andrew in Lynnwood.

  56. Andrew Le says:

    Basically, I read that statement above as, “I can use all 30-feet of that easement,” while I guess he reads it as “you can only use (be on) that paved asphalt road, which is just 12-feet wide and you cannot be on another other part of the easement, including that former ditch area, which I covered to park my cars.”

    Can you see the difference in reading that statement on my plat map?

    Andrew

  57. Andrew, if you wouldn’t mind emailing me your real name and address to ARDELLd@gmail.com I’ll take a look at it. Easements are usually for passing through or access to something…not for parking in. I can have a Title Company pull some of the records for me to see if there are any noted distinctions between the paved area and the rest of that 30 foot easement section. I also need to see how the lots 1,2,3 and 4 line up.

    This is Craig’s post and he will likely see all this tomorrow. It might be wise to pay for a legal opinion on this, as it sounds like it is going to get even messier once the neighbor builds that wall.

    Email me the address and your full name, so I can tell which of the parcels is yours.

  58. Andrew — I am happy to chat with you by phone to determine whether or not you would benefit from incurring the costs of legal counsel. I can tell you that a “neighbor dispute” such as this can quickly spiral out of control such that everyone loses but the lawyers. I encourage you to tread softly and work towards a mutually agreeable resolution. Things like “calling the cops” generally are not helpful in achieving a resolution reasonable to all parties.

  59. Hello Craig and Ardell,

    Yes, I can email you my information (or chat with you Craig on the phone)… Yes, I understand this situation can get messy fast… I just get the feeling that my neighbor wants to cordon (sp?) restrict that area so I can’t come near it, either with my car or just walking / standing on that plot of land. The guy is a real jerk. He’s even put his garbage can on the a real “shared driveway” on my neighbor’s section of the driveway next to him and I’ve talked to that neigbor and he doesnt like it either.

    Basically, the plot map doesnt show any separation between the various “easement parts.” It’s all lumped into one generic “30-feet easement wide area.”

    Well, like I said the other 2 neighbors (lot 1 and 2) had a ditch in that easement, they filled it with dir and use it for parking.. and I guess this jerk saw that and wanted to do the same.

    So the contention is if he can block off that section that he now calls HIS parking space from my use (the other 2 neighbors dont have a need to use it, since they have their own now)…

    My other feel is once it blocks off that area and calls it his own parking space, then by adverse possession(?) then it will become exclusively his and the easement will be gone?!?

    -Andrew

  60. Andrew,

    My only concern from everything you have said is that people are filling in a ditch that was likely there to manage the flow of water runoff.

    I think your neighbor is correct in that you do not have the right to park in the easement, and only have limited use of it to pass over it into your own two car garage and your own driveway in front of your two car garage, which appears to have ample parking space.

    From what I am seeing, it appears that each owner owns a rectangular lot that includes a section of the 30 foot easement and subject to the restrictions of that easement, regardless of where the paved area starts and stops. It is not a public street where you are free to park in front of someone else’s house.

    I have seen this in many areas where people have paved out a parking space in an easement area in front of their own house, and yes it is generally accepted by the neighbors that the paved section is an additional parking spot ONLY for the person at the house behind that spot. Technically no one has a right to park in the easement, but I have seen allowances made as neighborly practice for the owner of that lot to carve out a spot for themselves, as long as that spot does not affect the ingress and egress legally provided to the neighbors.

    You can get a legal opinion, but I see no basis for you to have a legal right to park in the easement in front of anyone’s house. You don’t have the right to park in it in front of your own house either, nor do the neighbors. But since each owner appears to own the section of the easement in front of their own house (each lot extends to the end of the easement) there could be some basis for someone parking in the easement in front of their own house…but not in front of the neighbor’s house as you are trying to do.

    If you made a formal complaint, the end result would not likely be that you could park up the road in the easement. The net result would more likely be that no one can park in the easement, and the ditch needs to be restored to its original state for water runoff purposes, as originally intended.

    That other people do it in front of their own house and within the boundaries of their own lots is not a good indication that you can do it on someone else’s lot that is not yours.

  61. Hi Ardell,

    Thanks for that bit of information. I can accept your explanation of my not being able to park on that area that everyone has put gravel on for THEIR parking space, because all those easements is THEIR property (I have no easement, all my land is my own).

    I guess I was reading that statement about the “30 feet easement – shared road to benefit all four lots) as, ” all that 30 feet I can access/use.” I guess I am wrong there?

    So, some more questions.

    Can he still build a mini wall/fence (I see stone pavers set near that location) to warden off that area that is adjacent to me? Doesnt that block the ingress/egress stipulation of the easement?
    If I just stand at that location where he turned the ditch into his parking space, am I able to do that? Or can he call that trespassing? (he’s threatened to call the cops on me or tow my car when I was parked there).
    What about adverse possession? If I dont object, then eventually that ditch easement will become exclusively his (no more easement).
    SO finally, from looking at my plat map, are you saying that the only area I can legally be on (standing on or driving on) is that original 12-feet aslphat road that was there when the houses were built and sold?
    Also, I do park on the aslphalt road and any guests I may have over I tell them to park on the alsphalt road as well in front of his house, like he does with his guests (which are alot!)… my 2 -car driveway is a little cramped when there are more than 2 cars coming to visit.

    -Andrew

    • Andrew,

      What you are legally allowed to do and what you can do because of a neighborly agreement, are two different things. You are allowed to do “more” by neighborly agreement, so as Craig suggested before IT IS BEST TO BE A GOOD NEIGHBOR! and not start wars with one another over entitlements that MAY NOT exist…legally.

      Most often when there are guests, on occasion, people alert their neighbors to the fact that there may be extra parking needed for your party AND that should not happen every other day :)

      As to the wall that is being built, the biggest concern will be the ingress and egress of a fire truck. My guess is that the easement is larger than needed by the average car for that reason. It could be a fire safety issue. So rather than checking the legal easement entitlements, I would suggest you contact the local fire department as to their width needs to meet fire safety standards.

      No one wants to find out the fire truck no longer “fits” down there when there is a fire. Often their needs have the highest priority as to “width” and ease of access and possible turn around requirements. If all of the homes have required interior sprinkler systems, that is a good sign that this is an issue. If they don’t, it’s possible that this “wall” will reduce the space to the point where they should have interior fire sprinkler systems.

      Fire safety after reduced access would be my primary concern.

      • Andrew Le says:

        Hi Ardell,

        Well, I do think I’m the good neighbor. It’s this jerk that is not. Even the neighbor next to him doesnt like him either.

        This guy is always having loud parties, his kids scream loud like bloody murder (is there a noise ordiance where I live?), he puts his kids’ play structure about 7 feet away from my window where his kids scream and yell like crazy, I cant even have a restful day.. his garbage flies everywhere and he even put his garbage can on my neighbor’s part of HIS driveway.

        And he’s building that mini-fence area to wall off and his stone bricks are leaning against MY fence.. which he probably thinks is HIS fence… (and mark his territory) where the point of contention is…

        I’m not doing anything to him.. he’s the instigator…

        I have no idea how to solve this problem.

        And I’m even afraid to sell the house in the near future, since if he knows about it, I’m sure he’d put more of his JUNK by that corner and scare away any potential buyers…

        Andrew

        • Andrew,

          Here’s a House For Sale sign you may find amusing.

          http://w8in.tumblr.com/post/79226583/house-for-sale-because-my-neighbor-is-an-asshole

          I’m still confused as to why you (and your neighbors) seem to need that additional parking. You have a two car garage. Many HOA ordinances (I know you likely don’t have those) require an owner to use both of their own garage spaces before parking any vehicles outside of their garage…even in their own driveway.

          Do you have two cars in your two car garage and still need extra parking space on an everyday basis? The best answer is to change something in your own life so that the property you exclusively own serves your needs, without needing someone else’s land. As I said earlier, the right of “ingress and egress” does not give someone the right to stay on…only pass over.

          If you can still get up and down the paved area, if you can get where you need to go past the neighbors house and on your way to and from your house, I believe that is really all you should expect to have from that easement area, regardless of how others may be using it.

          I can think of many, many examples over the years similar to yours, and without an absolute legal right to use that space, the only other answer is “as long as the neighbor(s) do not object, which they clearly do.

          For you to want something legally enforced because other people do it is like going into court for a speeding ticket with the defense that other people speed. Usually doesn’t work out well. 100 people a day could go by in a 25 mile and hour zone going 35 miles an hour…but if you get the ticket for speeding, that others do it too without getting a ticket is not usually a successful “excuse” to speed.

          Unless you can point to something that says you have a legal right to park there, I don’t see how you can enforce that “right”.

          Even in the City of Seattle, where no one owns the parking spot in front of their house, it is generally considered un-neighborly to consistently park cars in front of everyone else’s house. By common practice, most people park only in front of their own house, or in their own driveway, or in their own garage. And if you have a two car garage and don’t use it to park your cars in it, you might want to consider changing that practice.

          If you purchased a property that does not have adequate parking, in and of itself, for your vehicles…that really is not your neighbor’s fault…or problem. As to noise ordinances, yes there are noise ordinances, but I have never seen them used to prohibit children from playing in their own yard in the middle of the day.

          You can hire an attorney to see if he can find some “right” of yours to enforce against your neighbor. But I think the end result would be you would gain nothing, and your neighbor (and possibly your other neighbors) would all lose their extra parking spaces. If it would make you happier if no one had any “extra’ parking, well then hire a lawyer. But my guess is that will make matters worse vs better.

  62. Andrew, for legal counsel and analysis specific to your situation, I encourage you to consult an attorney. In person. Rely on information obtained via a blog from a non-attorney at your peril.

  63. Hi guys, I’m contemplating buying a home here in Seattle. The home does not have an ingress/egress easment (yeah!) It does have a shared side sewer going through the back yard. (Oh.)

    I’ve met with an architect about making some home modifications (adding a room). Based on How the home lies on the lot-the best way to go is to expand in the back of the house-right over this side sewer. Since the house is so old (1890) there is no easement recorded.

    If the sewer was ever to break – it would be a sanitary issue. Even if there is no easment recorded I do not think my neighbors would need my permission if a sewer line break occured (Kind of like if there was fire-I doubt my neighbor would need my permission to spray a garden hose on my property to put a fire out). Plus this sewer is 100 year old clay pipe already on it’s last legs…

    My Question: I plan to offer my neighbor a sewer service easement (access to maintain or repair sewer only) provided they pay 50/50 for the fees to have the brand new sewer in place and have the new easement recorded. Good idea? Bad idea?- I’m thinkign they pay 50% of relocating my sewer and I give them something they already have-just formally recorded. Win win?

    PS: new sewer line goes to area of property where we can’t build anyways.

    • Me.T. — like it says above, consult an attorney for legal advice. Consult a blog for legal advice at your peril. I am not your attorney and this is not legal advice.

      I don’t appreciate any legal issues with your suggested plan, and certainly a shared side sewer is far less likely to create conflict than a shared driveway — unless one of you manages to “block access”!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Townhome concerns… January 26, 2007 A prior post talks about shared driveways in old Seattle neighborhoods and another post within the post talks about parking issues with townhomes. I’m waiting for the first lawsuits and haggling to start over these townhomes in the Seattle area that are “zero-lot line”. While I show them to clients as house and condo alternatives I do point out the issues with not having a home owner’s association with reserves. What happens in several years when the whole building needs painting or a new roof and only you have saved money for a rainy day and your other neighbor spends like there’s no tomorrow so he/she has no savings to help pay? [...]

  2. [...] 2- Ah… the joys of a shared driveway….by Craig Blackmon [...]

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