The New Hampshire Supreme Court recently addressed this thorny issue by ruling that parties who enjoy the benefit of a private road may be required to contribute toward the road’s maintenance, even in the absence of covenants imposing that obligations.
Village Green Condominium Association v. Hodges (March 20, 2015) involved an access easement benefitting three apartment complexes that ran through land owned by a condominium association. The condominium had the right to use the easement area in common with the owner of the apartment land, and the easement gave the owner of the apartment land the right, but not the obligation, to improve and maintain the easement area. After several decades of apparently peaceful co-existence, the road required significant repair, and the condominium association sought contribution from the owner of the apartment land. In holding that the owner of the apartment land was required to contribute toward the maintenance and repair of the easement, the court based its ruling “upon the principle that, by using the easement, both the dominant and servient estates contribute to its wear and deterioration and, therefore, distribution of the burden of easement maintenance and repair between both estates is equitable and just.” The decision does not, however, address the nature and extent of the apartment owner’s contribution, as the parties settled that issue by agreement.
In Choquette & a. v. Roy, et. al. (April 3, 2015), one of the central issues to the case was whether an easement user had the right and obligation to maintain a right of way over his neighbor’s property. In this case, a landowner owned a plot of some 400 acres, which he subdivided into several lots over two decades. One of the subdivided lots, a 103-acre parcel, accessed a public road using two deeded easements, one of which stretched exclusively over a neighboring lot. The easement deeds benefitting the 103-acre parcel provided for access over the right of way, and was silent on maintenance obligations. The owner of the neighboring lot filed a petition for declaratory relief prohibiting the easement user from maintaining and repairing the right of way across his property, among other causes of action.
The Supreme Court affirmed at the time of conveyance of the 103-acre lot, the parties intended to permit the easement user access over the right of way at issue, and concluded a reasonable person would have concluded the easement was “permanent and obvious” and “reasonably necessary for the fair enjoyment of the [103-acre parcel].” Because the easement user had a right to increase the burden on the easement, the court held, in absence of an agreement to the contrary, the easement user had the common law right and duty to maintain the easement, and that right existed whether or not the other easement users also performed maintenance