Townhome concerns…

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?

Who’s responsible if a leak starts on your neighbor’s section of the roof but the water travels and penetrates into the structure on your side?

What are the appropriate measures to take to handle complaints such as the parking issue? If there is an easement for each property owner to all the other owners and the easement states that blocking the shared space is not allowed to whom does the aggrieved party complain and what is the possible restitution to that person if the offending party doesn’t quit blocking the shared space?

Another scenario: What if your neighbor decides to paint their part of the building bright purple? Or perhaps they never paint at all and bring down the resale value of your home when you try to sell?

While these types of housing have been decent middle ground options for home buyers that can’t afford some of the single family homes, particularly new construction in the city, and provide an alternative to condo living there are some serious questions and concerns that most buyers haven’t considered. I’m just waiting for the rash of lawsuits that will likely happen when these properties are around their 10th and 20th years of age and they’re in need of major upkeep. My guess is that aggrieved neighbor will sue offending neighbor but maybe there will be a different kind of backlash. Anyone out there in RCG-land got any ideas or thoughts on the subject?

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 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.