Good fences make good neighbors?
February 4, 2011 9:28 AM   Subscribe

What are my obligations as a neighbor with a shared driveway? I really don't want to be a special snowflake.

We moved here about four years ago, to a little place in the woods with a shared driveway. A few months after we moved here, Neighbor A sent a letter, addressed "Dear Neighbor" not having gotten our names, saying that they wanted to pave the driveway and our share would be $8500. We said no, we don't want to do this. If the potholes need filling, we can help fill potholes. Our neighbors went ahead and had the driveway paved. The timing was inconvenient as my wife was seven months pregnant with twins and they hadn't given us any notice. She is still pissed about this. I sent a letter to the neighbors including the other neighbors who share the driveway explaining my reasoning.

Since then, I've been plowing driveway for the last three years. This year, Neighbor B has been doing the bulk of the snow removal with his tractor, since my plow has been useless in more than a foot of snow. The Neighbor A has also been plowing with his business truck. He hasn't done much plowing in years past, since he seemed to be on vacation much of the winter.

Last night, my wife and kids came home and the Neighbor A had widened the plow path - or had workers come and do it. They had also piled the snow up in front of our driveway preventing her from getting in. She left her car there knowing I would be home in fifteen minutes. When I got there, Neighbor A was pissed that my wife was blocking his way into his driveway. I shoveled and one of the workers came up with a snow blower and cleared a path. When I was done, he finally introduced himself.

"You stiffed me on the driveway." and you owe me and Neighbor B for moving all this snow. He had some good points about the importance of cooperation, which I agreed with.

I agree that I owe Neighbor B. This man has worked hard with tractor, and if not for him we would be stuck.

What are my obligations to Neighbor A?

They are really rich, like international business rich. We are not. We are underwater on our mortgage and our financial situation changed for the worse shortly after we moved. Does this matter?
Does our participation in the upkeep of the driveway mean that we have to pay for higher standards than we have? There is, of course, no written agreement on any of this.
posted by mearls to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Too bad they got no written agreement, isn't it?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:31 AM on February 4, 2011 [10 favorites]

How wealthy you are in relation to another party is irrelevant.

Is there any sort of written agreement about maintenance of a shares driveway? If there is, that pertains. If there is not then three parties have to come to some mutually agreed resolution.

But if these people are really as wealthy as you say they are beware if they are litigious because that's a battle that you likely will not win.
posted by dfriedman at 9:36 AM on February 4, 2011

Was your "no, we don't want to do this" reply in writing? Did you keep a copy for your records? I'd think that if you work out some agreement with Neighbor B for an amount to pay for keeping the driveway clear, you should give the same amount to Neighbor A for keeping the driveway clear, and nothing for the paving of the driveway, since you expressly said you did not want it to happen, and worse yet, it made life more difficult for your 7mth pregnant wife.
posted by Grither at 9:39 AM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You told him that you didn't want the driveway paved, he went ahead and paved it anyway. You don't owe him jack for the driveway.

Vis a vie the plowing, I think it is time for you to get to know Neighbor B (he with the plow, not the internationally rich guy). If you've been there 3 years and you just met Neighbor A yesterday, do you not know Neighbor B either? Time to stop by with a plate of homemade cookies (or whatever) to express personally your gratitude that he's been plowing since the snow has been deeper this winter. Chances are, he knows why you haven't been plowing this winter because he is around in the winter and knows that you normally do, and what your equipment is, but a little gratitude goes a long way.

While you're over there, get to know him a bit. Is he married? Invite him and his spouse over for a drink, or a meal.

Once you've gotten to know him a bit, exchange phone numbers and cells (for emergencies that go well beyond "you plowed our driveway in" since you live in the woods), and offer to work on a schedule of who will plow when - say that if the snow is <1>2 feet he will take care of it, see if he finds that good enough.

What you owe this guy is appreciation for plowing, which can be easily expressed with some friendly chit-chat and some cookies, as well as the offer to more formally collaborate in the future.
posted by arnicae at 9:44 AM on February 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

I think the three of you need to sit down over nachos and beer and start communicating like adults. Forget who owes who what from before. Talk about what goes on from this day forward. So you don't have money? You offer labour. But be honest about what you can afford, with a simple "We don't have that kind of money." The three of you are going to have to share that driveway, so hosility is not the flavour you want to go with.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 9:45 AM on February 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

I don't think you have any binding obligations. But you need to change their perception of you from "guy who stiffed me" to "the neighbor guy" or even "friendly neighbor".

To do that, I would say start small, and move up to where you are comfortable, but not burdened. Focus on things that are not monetized.

My suggestions to start:
1) First do no harm - make sure you are not blocking their side, or somehow being a jerk.
2) Do your share - shovel the drive as often as convenient. Make any repairs that you can.
3) Try to be friendly - maybe take over a batch of brownies as a "thank you" for clearing the snow. Definitely say the words "Thank you" to them, in person, when they do something nice (like now). Your post says he "finally introduced himself", but that means you went 4 years without introducing yourself to him either. Do better than that.

If this is well received, and isn't a burden, move up. Invite them over to dinner. Offer to water their plants when they are on vacation. Watch their kids so they can have a "date night" Do what you are comfortable with, but no more.

If you are friendly with him he isn't going to worry about money he doesn't need from a long time ago.
posted by I am the Walrus at 9:45 AM on February 4, 2011

Some jurisdictions have laws that deal specifically with common improvements (for example, sharing the cost of a fence that runs along two properties), so do not just assume that in the absence of a written agreement you are not responsible for costs. Your profile doesn't say where you are but it would be worth it to Google around on that point so you can feel comfortable with your legal standing.
posted by AgentRocket at 9:49 AM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If they do something, even if it's for you, without asking you first or without your permission, then they've given it to you and you have no *actual* obligation.

We have a shared private road--actually an easement across our property, which then continues across the next two neighbors' properties, and which is used by 6 homes. Right after we bought this house, the neighbor at the end of the road said he wanted to get it paved, and it'd cost us $money, but it'd be such a great improvement AND we'd get all kinds of benefits! Like insurance reductions for being on a paved road! All six homes could share the cost!

We came back with, "We're not sure this is a good idea, we don't want to pay $money, and we're already on a paved road (we're at the end, so our property fronts on the main road). We're willing to discuss it but you can't just make this decision for all of us. And you may not do this, on our property, without our permission." He was pretty shocked by that last one; he hadn't thought we might say no to paying, much less to permission.

(Among other things, we were worried about people driving too fast on the paved road--something he attempted to assure us was silly, but which we have seen more of since the road got paved. Since it's on our property, we're not happy about that.)

Eventually, we did agree to pay a reduced amount, since we didn't actually *want* the road paved, but we would benefit slightly. One of the homes flat out refused to pay anything. So the guy ended up paying his share, most of our share, and the other home's share too. Since he was the one who wanted it, that seems fair to me. He didn't have to go and have it done, he was the one who thought it was important, he knew some of us weren't interested in paying for it, so he shouldn't have done it if he didn't want to pay.

It's not our problem that he wanted something so badly that he was willing to pay for it. Bonus: since he's the kind of jerk who assumes everyone will agree with him and is taken aback when people say, "No, we're not going to just go along with you spending our money," our refusal to go along with him means he doesn't talk to us anymore. This is a positive. The absence of a bully in our lives enriches us.

I think your neighbor is in the same boat. He shouldn't have done it if he didn't want to pay for the whole thing, since he was the one who wanted to do it. You stiffed him? No, you didn't. Screw him; you told him no.
posted by galadriel at 9:54 AM on February 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

It sounds like an interesting situation but is hardly unique to share driveways with neighbors. You may want to check your deed and see if there is anything that spells out an agreement. If there isn't, now is the time to put together a notarized three-party agreement. You don't need to hire a lawyer unless it is agreed on by the majority. Basically just come to an agreement to the obligations of all parties involved and spell it out completely.
posted by JJ86 at 9:54 AM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

He bitched at your wife because she blocked his way, but she only blocked his way because he blocked her way on to your driveway? What an asshole.

Have a sit-down with A and B. From this day forward, set out some sort of work schedule for plowing the driveway. Tell them what's past is past, you didn't want the pavement, and if he's gonna bitch about the plowing he did this time, you're gonna be forced to bill *him* for the last three years' plowing.
posted by notsnot at 9:56 AM on February 4, 2011

Response by poster: I actually did bring Neighbor B a loaf of homemade bread. Other than that and to say thanks, I've talked to Neighbor B only once, and about the driveway just after it was done. I feel as though he is definitely allied with A on this issue and I think he does paid work for A. I do think he is a good guy, cuts his own firewood and has a tractor - my kind of people. I plan on giving him a few hundred bucks for the snow removal this year, and talking to him about the future seems obvious now that you've stated it.
posted by mearls at 9:56 AM on February 4, 2011

A driveway easement is recorded in a deed, right?
posted by fixedgear at 9:59 AM on February 4, 2011

It sounds like you need to find a way to increase the level of friendliness with your neighbors, but you don't owe them any money.

B would probably be the person to start with, even if he's allied with A. Some people get "Dear neighbor, we feel our block needs X, your share of the cost is $Y" letters and just pay rather than get into neighbor drama, and if B is that kind of person, it might be worth explaining your motives a little bit (what your budget is like, how you prefer to plan communal expenses, etc.). You don't owe neighbor B money (although a token gift of gas money for the tractor or a "thanks for plowing!" plate of cookies would be nice). You plow the snow when you can, without expecting payment, and B plows the snow when he can, presumably also not expecting payment. But you need to talk to him and establish a friendlier neighbor relationship so that you don't unnecessarily lump him in with A, who sounds like kind of a bossy jerk.

I'm guessing that the reason that A feels you owe him money for snow removal is that he's paid for a snow removal service, rather than plowing or shoveling it himself. You don't owe him money, but you could probably get on better footing with A by calling him up or going over and saying, "I didn't realize you intended to hire a snow removal service, and I'm sorry that you feel I've been negligent by not paying for that service. That's not in my budget this year, unfortunately, but I try to make up for it by plowing and shoveling the driveway myself. What can we do to resolve this situation? What if I coordinate with B to plow/shovel us all out on mornings when there's under a foot of snow, and you only bring in your snow removal workers when it's over a foot?"
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:01 AM on February 4, 2011

Fighting with neighbors about driveways scares me (reminds me of the Grimes)

You have to live with these people, try to find ways to avoid escalation especially if they are assholes...
posted by mincus at 10:04 AM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you were never part of negotiations on care of the shared resource, then you didn't stiff anybody. You plowed when you could, and didn't expect payment. Plowing you in intentionally is a dick move.

The paving was their choice, and is a done deal. Ask neighbors A & B and any others who share to get together at your house to talk about a fair way to manage the shared resource. Since you have plowing capabilities, it's not unreasonable that some of your contribution could be "in kind."
posted by theora55 at 11:03 AM on February 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

fixedgear: A driveway easement is recorded in a deed, right?

Yes, somewhere, there's likely a recorded document of who owns the actual driveway property, and what the rights (and possibly responsibilities) are for the people who use that driveway. It may be as simple as to grant access across the property to the other parties, or it may detail how the maintenance of the area is handled.

From what I've seen, easements are generally less detailed on the maintenance side of things, and more of the plain Person B and Person C can use this strip of land that is owned by Person A to gain access their own property from the public/private roadway.

With that, I'd suggest some gathering of of the three parties to discuss what people can (and should) be doing, from everyone's own point of view. If you plan on paying someone for their work, or can trade some services or goods, bring that up to show you want to whatever is in your means to help.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:10 PM on February 4, 2011

I plan on giving him a few hundred bucks for the snow removal this year

I wouldn't establish a new norm of paying the neighbor to plow the driveway. This sets up an implied obligation for future years, and if you don't intend to be consistent (if it snows just as much next year, and you still don't have the cash to get a bigger plow, will you give him a few hundred bucks next year, too?) you should shy away from establishing the precedent.

I think being friendlier with both neighbors is the best choice (and if not friendlier, at least know each other's names and wave a cordial hello, be able to talk in a business professional kind of way when you run into each other). Sit down and establish a plan about who will plow the driveway when (for instance, as I was suggesting earlier, tell them that you'll take care of the snow when it is less than a foot, and that he can take care of the snow when it is greater than a foot, since your equipment doesn't suffice)
posted by arnicae at 10:55 PM on February 4, 2011

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