You live on a private road. It snows. Now what?
If you do not have a private road maintenance agreement, New Hampshire law requires each residential owner to “contribute equitably to the reasonable cost of maintaining the private road.” Easier said than done. Figuring out each person’s equitable share, and then chasing people for payment, can be cumbersome.
One solution is to enter into a private road maintenance agreement with all stakeholders. Private road maintenance agreements generally address five things: 1) who is bound by the agreement, 2) what sort of maintenance work should be performed, 3) who makes that decision, 4) how much money must each lot owner contribute, and 5) the consequences for non-payment. The agreement should be recorded in the registry of deeds to make sure it binds future owners of lots.
Every lot owner who needs to contribute toward the maintenance of a private road should sign the private road maintenance agreement. It is important to get the full, legal name correct. The best way to do that is to look at the deed into the current owner of each lot. Deeds are available for all to see at the registry of deeds, readily available online in most New Hampshire counties.
The lot owners should have a general understanding in advance as to the level of maintenance they want. Some people prefer dirt roads, while others like asphalt. Putting a general description of that expectation into the private road maintenance agreement will guide future decisions and help minimize conflict. At the very least, a statement of general expectations will give a court guidance, should a dispute get that far.
Giving all lot owners a voice on decisions may be appropriate for smaller groups, but unwieldy for larger ones. For larger groups, the lot owners could meet annually, for example, and appoint an executive committee or single person to make final maintenance decisions.
Likewise, an annual meeting can be used to set the budget. A reserve usually is a good idea to address unexpected emergencies.
Finally, the agreement should give the lot owners the clear right to sue a delinquent owner. This part of the process can be the most difficult where the lot owners are bound by a contract, and nothing more. In a future blog, I will address how the use of a separate entity can greatly simply the administration and enforcement of private road maintenance agreements.