A recent accident in Harrison, Maine involving a fire truck raises more questions regarding private roads, a complex topic that has always affected those dealing in real estate. In spite of recent efforts to clear up issues surrounding abandoned and discontinued roads, the legal and practical aspects of going over the river and through the woods can be daunting.
As reported in The Sun Journal, a Harrison Fire Department truck slid down a hill while responding to a carbon monoxide alarm, suffering major front end damage. Fortunately, the driver escaped with only a few scratches.
As a former volunteer firefighter, I can recall some heartbreaking calls when we found ourselves unable to reach a home on a private road that was poorly maintained–or not maintained at all. Those were simpler times and a call to the road superintendent would bring a plow, sander, or in some cases the town grader, even if the road wasn’t officially maintained by the town. But precious minutes were lost. Difficult judgments had to be made quickly–is this road passable? Am I going to risk people and equipment if I proceed?
Those decisions are no less simple today. If anything, they have become more difficult as entities and individuals must consider liability and legality. Some towns are adopting ordinances and policies to deal with these issues.
Property purchasers need to be aware of the potential issues and problems if access to the property is anything other than a public road. Since this is truly a local issue, research and diligence are required. Happily, buyers do not need to make split second decisions, but they do need to be aware that purchasing property on private roads always means assuming risks.
Reading the entire article will heighten awareness, certainly. And if you read all the way to the end, you’ll discover an interesting story of how some homeowners “solved” a problem with access to their properties.