How to Deal With Neighbors that Disagree on Easement Use

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“We own approximately 3 acres of heavily wooded land in Pennsylvania. I have a number of questions concerning a private road easement which goes through our property along the floor of a steep valley. There is also a 65-foot gas and electricity easement. My main concern is with the private road which turns off of the public road and has a number of landlocked properties along its length. A mid portion stretch of the road goes through our property. Our property is heavily wooded with a creek running through it. The only access I currently have is from behind my house, which is on a public road at the top of a steep hill. There is no road into the wooded area and the only access is from a set of steep steps followed by a single-track dirt trail. I would like to access the property at the bottom of the hill for recreational activities and for maintenance (i.e. removing debris that periodically gets washed down, or dead trees that may have fallen). I have verbally asked the neighbors if it was OK for me to use of the road and they have declined. From my deed plot plan and satellite images it looks like my property line extends to the centerline of the road with a 25′ “Private Road” easement. In addition one neighbor who lives in the bottom of the valley has been mowing an area which is clearly outside the 25 foot easement The specific questions that I have are:

[NOTE: Articles and answers on DearEsq., while written and published by lawyers, do not constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship is formed by your reading of this information. You should always consult with an attorney for any legal situations.]

1) Can I access my property by use of this road under “access by necessity”? 2) Am I required to maintain my portion of the (gravel) road? 3) If I were to plant “No Trespassing” or “Private Property” signs along my boundary would I have to do so at edge of the road, the boundary which runs parallel to the road at a distance of 25 feet, or at the utility easement distance of 65 feet? 4) If I were to fence or plant a tree line along my property boundary, where would I be legally able to do this? 5) I have noticed that every so often due to stream bank erosion some of the high pressure gas pipe is exposed. However, I do not access this part of the property very frequently due to the hostility of the neighbors who create an unfriendly environment. Particularly since I can access it by the steps and trail which are both very steep. Is it my duty to report this erosion to the utility company? 6) Can my neighbor legally mow the edge of the road which runs through my property, and if so can they do so up to the 25 foot easement line? 7) Am I legally obliged to maintain the edge of the road so that it is clear of brush, overhanging branches etc.

I appreciate any help or guidance that you can provide.”

The answer to most of your questions is: You need to look at the appropriate documents. In particular, when the land was subdivided to create the various parcels and the private road, there should have been easements recorded regarding that road. The easement document (which might be a deed or agreement or otherwise titled) may detail the various rights and responsibilities of the different owners.

If it doesn’t, you’ll have to look to local law to answer the maintenance and access questions.

Note that use over time can modify the written easement, under the prescriptive easement doctrine. So if your neighbor has been mowing regularly and without permission for long enough (how long varies from state to state), he may have the right to continue doing so.

An easement by necessity is a doctrine which is normally only invoked when an entire parcel is landlocked during the process of subdividing. Since you have access to the county road from another angle, you’re probably out of luck, there.

As for putting up fences and/or signs, the proper location is again a matter of local law. However, to the extent that your neighbors have protectible rights to use the private road, you generally can’t prevent them from doing so by, for example, putting up a fence.

Finally, regarding the gas pipe, is there any reason for you NOT to report this to the utility company? It’s a fire hazard, if nothing else.

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Author: House Attorney

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