Other Voices: Road definitions could pave way for quarrels
It seems Nevada County is in the process of returning some of its rural road dedications. Either they’re returning them or letting them expire.
The maintenance of those roads falls into their owners hands and into perpetuity. Without the benefit of county input in some of these old road issues – and, in many cases, the issues are the result of willy-nilly chopping up of county lands during sub-division – residents/owners with no future of county shared road maintenance (as the county continues to grow) are forced to review the situations they now find themselves in.
It is these situations that now see neighbors fighting among themselves for what they consider their rights. As some of these issues are being faced, as you might well expect, these thoughts stem from just such an event. It should be noted that it comes about because too many people, including my neighbors, were “comfortable” not paying attention to what was going on in their neighborhood, “comfortable” believing that at some point in time the county would establish some rules and regulations, such as application of speed limits, speed bumps, mandated sharing of maintenance, etc., as they adopted more rural residential roads.
“Road Dedication” tends to imply that one day there will be a modicum of county control. Learning that neighborhoods will be on their own, no help, whatsoever, from the county, may ensure even more in-fighting around private property rights.
There may be neighbors finding themselves in courtrooms, trying to sort out exactly what the law “speaks to” as more of these roads are returned to their previous private road status. Because the old sub-divisions involved private roads and not public thoroughfares, the incidences of trespass will become talking points in many of these cases. Too many people, finding themselves involved in these trespassing situations, will seek some loophole for getting around a private property infraction. Some may claim a “prescriptive easement” in their attempt, and in many cases, it may be deemed a reasonable claim. With that in mind, there are a few “tests” that those considering it might want to apply before determining that they have a case worthy of a courtroom:
1) Does the property have a specified road easement? There will be at least one, but in the case of trespass, the “road segment” in question will have to be supported by another recorded easement. A utility easement and a road easement are not the same thing.
2) Has the owner of record ever given written permission to anyone to pass through the property? This may be considered “illegal” if it impacts a private road.
3) Do impacted properties have deed requirements or restrictions that define what road maintenance involves and who it concerns?
4) If a prescriptive easement is being claimed, are ingress and egress dependent on the road segment in question? If there is no impact, if other roads provide ingress and egress, there is no prescriptive easement, no matter the length of time that a trespass exists.)
There are very few people that willingly go out of their way to make problems in another’s life, even as it seems the end result in defending property rights. If you find yourself involved in a Hatfield and McCoys scenario, be informed. Get as much information as possible, (include answers to the above questions), checking out all pertinent county records. Seek a title search if warranted. Consider your neighbors, even as you may disagree with them, and do support legal avenues of approach if you feel you’re justified. Understand that the county cannot force any private “road segment” being opened unless they share the cost of maintenance of all impacted by such a determination. Legal over vandalism – the choice some irresponsibly make – will be better received by a judge that might be considering your circumstance.
Sherry Balow is a western Nevada County resident.
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