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LEGAL MATTERS: Good fences make good neighbors, and so do easement agreements!

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By Kathleen G. Moriarty,

Peters & Moriarty,  Attorneys and Counselors of Law

Legal Matters is a regular column intended to address general legal concerns. Since every client walks in the door with a different set of circumstances, you should not rely on this column to provide specific legal advice. If you are in need of specific legal advice, please consult with an attorney; he or she will provide advice that is unique and tailored to your legal needs.

Driveway easements are the most common form of easement, and they are more common in the Village of Ellicottville than some neighbors might prefer. Although they can present problems, most easement driveways can serve a very efficient purpose with an appropriate agreement in place.

Often, an easement driveway is located entirely on one person’s property, and that person allows an adjoining landowner to use it to access their properties. Sometimes this means that a landowner uses an easement driveway to access landlocked property; other driveways run along the boundary of two properties from a public road.

In the Village of Ellicottville, many easement driveways run over the middle of the boundary between two properties in some way shape or form. Neighbors may create them intentionally if there isn’t enough room between houses for each property to have its own driveway or to share the costs of maintenance. In fact, Village Zoning Law encourages easement driveways because they help get cars off the streets and behind houses.

It isn’t unusual either that a driveway is unintentionally located over two properties where it was meant to be entirely on one. Village lots were laid out approximately 200 years ago.  Since then, surveying technology has improved, measurements have become more accurate, properties have been subdivided and minor mistakes may have been made in deeds. As a result, discrepancies exist between actual boundary lines, and they are not easily remedied.

Neighbors often have a handshake agreement regarding maintenance and intended use of these driveways, and, although this may work initially, it often presents problems for future owners. For instance, residential owners might want to protect against future commercial use if one party sold his/her lot to someone intending to use it for commercial purposes. Similarly, any future owners should know what’s expected of them in terms of snowplowing, paving and any other maintenance obligations.

For these reasons, written agreements prevent unwanted use of the easement. If these agreements are recorded in, or with, a deed in the County Clerk’s Office, the agreement will be reflected in the title search associated with the property. This puts potential buyers on notice of the easement and its terms, which helps reduce confusion and tension in the future.

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