There are a great number of private roads throughout Ventura County. Consequently, Public Works Agency staff often has to respond to questions about the rights and obligations of property owners served by such roads. For all questions of importance, the inquiring party should seek legal advice, because an accurate answer is dependent upon the particular facts and circumstances. However, general principles can provide some.
Provided below, in question-and-answer format, are general responses to frequently asked questions.
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How are private road easements created?
Private road easements may be created in a number of ways; however, the most common are express grant, express reservation, express exception, and by reference. The first three are usually created by document and the last by recorded map. There are other ways easements may be created but a determination as to whether they exist or not is dependent on facts not readily available in the public records. These would include easements created by prescription, by necessity, and by implication.
Where can I find records relating to any private road easements affecting my property?
One of the best sources for such information are the public records available through the Ventura County Recorder’s Office. These may be accessed directly by members of the public through microfiche and by computer terminals located in the Recorder’s Office. Easement information is contained in individual deeds and in subdivision maps, both of which are recorded documents. A copy of your title insurance policy should show all recorded easements affecting or appurtenant to your property. If you know the Assessor’s Parcel Number for your property, or the lot/parcel number in a subdivision or parcel map, you may contact the County Surveyor’s Map Room at (805) 654-2068 to confirm that there is a map on file showing your property and the road easement serving it.
Who is responsible for maintaining the private road serving my property?
Section 845 of the California Civil Code provides in part that the owner of an easement is responsible for maintaining it. If the easement is owned by more than one person, or attached to parcels of land under different ownership, the cost of maintaining it shall be shared in accordance with any agreement between the owners or, if there is no agreement, proportionately to the use made of the easement by each owner. A maintenance obligation may be enforced through civil action.
What if I want to improve the private road easement? Is there any way I can require other users of the easement to participate in the cost of improvement?
Absent an agreement to do so, users of a private road easement may not be required to participate in the cost of improving the private road except for the costs associated with maintaining it in good repair. If you would like to improve a private road easement serving your property, you should consider entering into a written cost sharing agreement with other users.
Does the private road easement serving my property, and others, allow a served property owner to excavate within the easement to install utilities?
The easement may, or may not, allow the installation of utilities. A careful reading of the easement language is required. If it is not clearly stated that the easement is also for utilities, you should consult your attorney for review and advice.
May a public utility or a cable television company install its facilities in a private road easement on its own initiative?
It may if the private road easement is nonexclusive and the public utility or cable television company has been granted an easement which is coterminous with or within the private road easement. Subdividers often create public utility easements within mapped roadways that they convey to utility companies by separate document. If a public utility easement has not been created, the public utility or cable television company must seek an easement from the owners of the properties involved.
My neighbor has encroached into the private road easement serving our properties with a fence and often parks his vehicles in front of his property, thus partially blocking the easement and making it difficult to get by. Does he have the right to do this?
If your neighbor is the fee owner of the area encumbered by the easement he may use it in any manner that does not unreasonably interfere with the purpose of the easement. However, he does not have the right to unreasonably interfere with the exercise of your easement rights.
If my neighbor is unreasonably interfering with my easement rights, will the County take any steps to enforce my rights, or at least write a letter to my neighbor telling him to quit building within the easement and blocking it in any way?
This is a civil matter between two private parties. Therefore, you should discuss the matter with your neighbor and try to resolve it amicably. If you cannot resolve the matter you may consider seeking legal counsel to initiate an action for enforcement of the easement. The County staff has no standing in such matters to assist either party.
Will the County accept the private road serving my property into the County road system?
In order to be considered for acceptance into the County road system, a road must be deemed to be required for the general public convenience and meet County road design and construction standards. A road of purely local interest would not qualify. More detailed information may be obtained from the Public Works Agency, Transportation Department, at (805) 654-2080. [/read_more]