Terrace ownership
August 21, 2005 4:26 PM   Subscribe

Are terraces (the portion of the lawn between a sidewalk in front of a home and the street) owned by the home owner or the city? I live in Milwaukee and I recall my dad once saying that it is public property.
posted by sharksandwich to Home & Garden (22 answers total)
As I understand the way it works, the city owns the right of way on which the street is built. This is generally a given number of feet in either direction from the centerline of the street. Where I live, the city owns not only the terrace, but the sidewalk and about 6" of my lawn. May be different where you live. I know that once you put your garbage out on the terrace, the city considers it to be their property.
posted by ackptui at 4:51 PM on August 21, 2005

I've never heard that section of sidewalk called a "terrace" before, but around here at least, it's public property. However, the owner of the property which it fronts is charged by the city for any work done there (as with all sidewalk work).
posted by majick at 4:52 PM on August 21, 2005

IANAL, but I believe you actually own that land, and are responsible for its upkeep, but the city has the "right of way" and can do anything they want with it (dig it up, put in a sidewalk, etc.).
posted by bshort at 4:54 PM on August 21, 2005

The word for it is "easement," I believe...
posted by jpburns at 4:59 PM on August 21, 2005

In Milwaukee they are owned by the city, but you are required to keep them maintained.

I used to live on the Upper East side, near UWM, right along the 30 Bus line. We often had issues with drunk students leaving piles of bottles in the terrace area, and getting citations from the city. After several phone calls with the city, and an attempt to get a trash can at that bus stop, I learned I was my responsibility to clean up the mess even though it was city property.

Trash complains aside, the city seems pretty lax, as some people in the neighborhood has turned them in to planters.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 5:00 PM on August 21, 2005

Around here, we call them the "parkway", and in most cases, they are part of the right-of-way for a particular street, and completely City property, but jurisdictions differ on this. ackptui is pretty much correct, especially in that your property may not begin at the sidewalk but a few feet within that. In my area, just about every subdivision has a different distance from the street curb to the property line, and some residential areas have no landscape strip between the curb and sidewalk at all. Also, in some rural areas there really is no right-of-way--just the centerline of the street with an easement to either side of it as jpburns suggests. However, these are generally in areas without much in the way of municipal utilities (like sewer pipes) which usually run below the street.

IANAL, but I believe you actually own that land, and are responsible for its upkeep, but the city has the "right of way" and can do anything they want with it (dig it up, put in a sidewalk, etc.).

Around here, if you want to do anything "hard" within the right-of-way, such as relocate your driveway and curbcut, you need to file a "encroachment removal agreement" with the city stating that you understand they can come in and mess with the work you've done any time they want.
posted by LionIndex at 5:19 PM on August 21, 2005

I've generally heard them called "treelawns" rather than "terraces." That said, in places I've lived they've generally been sort of city property, since the city can do pretty much whatever it wants in that area [i.e., put in curbs, plant trees, etc.] However, as Steve_at_Linnwood says, people often plant flowers and such on them, and residents are responsible for general upkeep [keeping the grass short, taking care of trash, whatever.] Not sure what they technically are, but treelawns in my experience are effectively somewhere in between public and private.
posted by ubersturm at 6:03 PM on August 21, 2005

This is one of those concepts that, in the U.S. at least, is described by a fascinating variety of regional terms.* Here's a note to that effect from answers.com:

To the majority of Americans, the grassy strip between the sidewalk and the street is called simply the grassy strip between the sidewalk and the street. However, in some parts of the country, it has acquired specific names. In the Midwest and West, it is often called the parking or parkway, and in Washington State it is the parking strip, according to the survey conducted by the Dictionary of American Regional English. In the Upper Midwest, it is also known as the boulevard or boulevard strip; around the Great Lakes and in the Midwest, it is sometimes a terrace; around the Great Lakes and in especially northeastern Ohio, it is also called a tree lawn. In Massachusetts it is a tree belt; in the Atlantic states, sometimes a grassplot; and in Louisiana and Mississippi, neutral ground. Some of these words are also used for the grassy strip in the middle of a street or highway.

I've also heard berm used for this strip.
posted by rob511 at 7:05 PM on August 21, 2005

In Australia it is called the nature strip. It is owned by the Crown, vested in the local government, but the resident is expected to keep it neat. The local government will generally be responsible for planting and/or pruning trees planted in it.
posted by wilful at 7:36 PM on August 21, 2005

This is also one of those concepts that, in the U.S. at least, is controlled by a fascinating variety of regional laws and regulations.

I think just about all the posters are right -- things vary considerably from state to state, city to city and even street to street. Visit the friendly folks in your local planning/zoning office for the details that apply to the "tree belt" (I'm in MA) in question.

One thing I'd like to clear up is that when it comes to property rights, who "owns" a piece of land is not necessarily that useful a thing to know. You may very well own the land that the sidewalk and tree belt are on, but your rights and responsibilities may be severely restricted on land you own that is within the right of way. The right of way IS a kind of easement; easement is a general term for any right to your land that you grant to another. You can grant a driveway easement to a neighbor with a "landlocked" parcel (One without direct street frontage). This enables him/her to build and maintain a driveway on a piece of your land and use that driveway to access his/her parcel. You can grant this easement in exchange for a sum of money or just out of the goodness of your heart.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:41 PM on August 21, 2005

Where I live, the city owns it, but I have to tend it. I don't know what we call it. In my town people usually leave it planted in grass with the ocassional tree. I've seen people plant flower gardens in that strip. They look quite nice.
posted by Ken McE at 7:53 PM on August 21, 2005

In NJ it is called the "curb strip," and, though we mow it, the city seems to own it. They came one day and dug a big hole in it, and then came back another day and planted a tree in the hole. Seemed to be within their power to do so.
posted by Miko at 8:27 PM on August 21, 2005

There isn't that much variation in the legal situation. Probably well over 90% of municipal situations are that the property line ends where the sidewalk is, with the adjoining property owner:

* responsible for the upkeep of the sidewalk, parkway (or ..) and curb
* assessable if the city incurs maintenance costs, and
* citable if the owner neglects cleanup or other attention such as shoveling
* forbidden from erecting structures, obstructions, or other permanent uses (without city approval).

That said, every municipality has its own specific, arcane fillips around these basic principles, so if there's any serious question, the friendly folks at the city are the ones to contact.

Speaking of Milwaukee, though, there's a funny little story about that.
posted by dhartung at 8:47 PM on August 21, 2005

This discussion of terraces (parkways, etc.) reminded me of the Dialect Survey. We had no word for that grassy area between the street and sidewalk in Philly where I grew up.
posted by Fat Guy at 9:42 PM on August 21, 2005

Fascinating, rob511. That set of terms certainly pegs my geographic origins correctly... Though I've generally called the "berm" the edge of the highway - sort of synonymous with "shoulder."
posted by ubersturm at 11:04 PM on August 21, 2005

I used to work for the Engineering Department in Milwaukee and have worked doing property surveys in the city too. Generally, from the curb to about a foot behind the walk is street right of way. In some neighborhoods, it extends several feet behind the walk. The rough location of the start of your property line can be found at the 7th floor of the Municipal Building in Engineering.

The property owner is responsible for maintaining the parkway and walk that fronts their property. The owner must cut the grass in the parkway, shovel the snow from the walk and also (from the article linked to above) not place "obstructions" within that right of way. Property owners also get assessed for repairs to the sidewalk as well as the street to the roadway centerline. Alleyway reconstruction is always assessed to the property owner.
posted by JJ86 at 2:16 AM on August 22, 2005

Interesting. This Seattleite calls it the treelawn, though that may be imported from where my parents grew up, which is all over the place. (Some of those terms seem really jarring to me — to me, a terrace always indicates a flat area supported by a retaining-wall on one side. And I seem to have had an idiosyncratic and not quite correct impression of the word berm.)

Oh, and in Seattle, your property goes out to the curb, but there are easements and responsibilities for the sidewalk area. You can turn the treelawn into planters or whatever if you want, but there are various rules about not planting deep-rooted trees on top of the utility lines and so forth, and the city can dig it up if they want to.
posted by hattifattener at 3:25 AM on August 22, 2005

I've never heard anybody give it a name beyond 'that strip' in Toronto. It only exists on one street in my (rather nice) neighbourhood.

Thus where it isn't available (and even where it is) the city plants trees in their allowance on front lawns. If you have one, you can't get rid of it (or any other reasonably-sized tree on your property for that matter) without their permission, and without them replacing it. As far as I know the allowance extends a ways in, but given that they can make you plant something as large as a tree the boundry of influence is fuzzy.
posted by maledictory at 9:12 AM on August 22, 2005

I grew up calling it the "devil strip," and apparently so did the other kids in Akron, Ohio.
posted by tizzie at 10:13 AM on August 22, 2005

For the record, this Seattle native calls it a "parking strip."
posted by mbrubeck at 10:29 AM on August 22, 2005

Interesting bit of trivia: In Washington, DC (and nowhere else, as far as I know), when you own a house you actually legally own only the property beneath the foundation of the house. The rest of your yard, driveway, etc. actually belongs to the District, although your deed gives you rights to it. In practice, there is no real difference from actually owning the entire property, but in theory the government can come in and take parts of your yard without compensation or due process.
posted by clarissajoy at 10:36 AM on August 22, 2005

but in theory the government can come in and take parts of your yard without compensation or due process.

In my neighborhood we just call that "the New London case."

Where I grew up in South Florida we called that strip "the swayle." That may not be the proper spelling - I never saw it written down. I also heard "easement" bu tthat was more often used to describe the area that had to be open to an inspector/meter reader to walk through the block, not the periphery of the street.
posted by phearlez at 11:35 AM on August 22, 2005

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