Shared driveways: A recipe for disputes?

When you’re house hunting, finding the perfect home can be daunting. Perhaps a house has everything you want and need, but there’s a catch: the driveway is shared. The sellers claim they’ve had no issues with the driveway arrangement, but you haven’t met the neighbor and have no idea what problems might come up down the road. What should you do?

Of course, it’s a personal decision – one that depends on many factors – but you should still be aware of the headaches that shared driveways can cause.

How property rights to shared driveways are typically structured

Ownership of shared driveways can be fairly complicated. In terms of property rights, there are many ways to structure such an arrangement:

  • Both neighbors have deeded ownership (usually as joint tenants or tenants-in-common)
  • Each party owns half of the driveway with an easement (right of way) to the other half
  • One party owns the whole driveway and the other holds an easement

Understanding the ownership structure is critical for determining each party’s rights and interests.

How do disputes typically arise?

Most disputes stem from unclear expectations. Perhaps the ownership structure isn’t properly defined or recorded. In some cases, one “deadbeat” party simply fails to uphold their obligations – or makes unreasonable demands on the other party – despite well-documented responsibilities.

Disagreements frequently involve:

  • Costs and responsibilities for maintenance
  • Children’s toys, bicycles or other items strewn in the driveway
  • Parked cars left in the driveway
  • Modifications to the driveway such as fencing or gates

Even if neighbors have shared a driveway for many years with no issues, when one party sells, the new dynamic could mean a very different situation.

Ultimately, the key to a successfully shared driveway is making sure both parties uphold a shared understanding of the arrangement. And that requires a well-drafted deed to clearly spell out each party’s rights and responsibilities.

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