This Road May Not Be Paved With Good Intensions
January 24, 2017 9:39 PM   Subscribe

You are not my lawyer, but can anyone tell me if this situation is as potentially fraught with problems as I think it is?

We recently bought a house. We are having a garage built on it. Our general contractor asked us for our road maintenance agreement. We provided it. The agreement was signed by the previous owners of the property as well as three other parties, and transferred with the property. It stated that our private (not county maintained road) road is the responsibility of all four property owners who use the road to access their property. Since we bought the house two new houses are being built on the road. The road is dirt, about a quarter mile long.

Our contractor came back and dropped off a new agreement that she claims we must sign before she can go any further with the construction. The new agreement states that my husband and I are solely responsible for all the road maintenance. It further states that the road is not a USPS route, which it most certainly is.

I have no experience with sort of thing but I think we need to talk to a lawyer before we sign this, if we sign it at all.

Am I right to be cautious about this? What sort of lawyer will I need to talk to? Is there anyone else we should talk to about this, the county maybe?

Any insight is so very much appreciated because I really don't know how to deal with this. We have a huge hole on our property where they've dug out our foundation, and my contractor is threatening to put us at the back of the list of her projects if we don't just go ahead and sign.
posted by WalkerWestridge to Law & Government (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You definitely need a real estate lawyer to read both the original and proposed contracts to advise you what is going on. Depending on what the lawyer says, you might also need their advice on how to deal with the contractor.

INAL but it makes absolutely no sense to me that a contractor would be interfering in the agreement between private parties on road maintenance. I would actually call the contractor, tell her you are confused about why she asking for this and ask her to explain the purpose of her proposed agreement. This is not a substitute for calling a lawyer (don't believe anything she says if it doesn't match what is in writing) but (a) it gives you more information and (b) it shows that you are at least considering doing what she wants while you take some time to figure out what is actually the right thing to do.

There is a great metafilter page on how to find a lawyer - can't locate it right now but i'm sure someone else will give you the link.
posted by metahawk at 10:01 PM on January 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

Yes, you need lawyer. Real estate (property) attorney. Someone with some experience with construction/contracting disputes (either themselves, or in their firm) would be good. Aside from any uncertainty over the status of the road, your contractor *may* not be in a position to foist these new requirements on you.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:02 PM on January 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

There is a great metafilter page on how to find a lawyer - can't locate it right now but i'm sure someone else will give you the link.

MeFi wiki: Get a lawyer
posted by zachlipton at 10:14 PM on January 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Do not sign this without speaking to a lawyer. Ask your contractor for the contact information from the lawyer who drew up the "new" agreement so you can give it to your lawyer.
posted by AugustWest at 10:25 PM on January 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh, sorry, to clarify, the new contract is on county letterhead. The Contractor claims she can not get the permits she needs if this new agreement is not signed.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 10:31 PM on January 24, 2017

Yeah, so it's been a long time since I've had much to do this stuff, but my first thought upon reading this was that someone could use this fact-pattern as a starter for a *really cool* bar exam question.

And generally speaking, it sucks to have to live out a really cool bar exam question, especially without help. Get an attorney.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 10:35 PM on January 24, 2017 [12 favorites]

leaving aside the USPS thing, does this proposed document say you're solely responsible for road maintenance in perpetuity, or just that you're responsible for correcting any damage caused during this construction?
posted by russm at 12:29 AM on January 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

You are free to walk into your local Planning Dept, get in line, and Ask a clerk to clarify this document when it's your turn. They already have valid permits on the new construction, did that developer sign the same agreement for the same road? How come the other property owners (you) were not notified?? The clerk dealing with your contractor may have made a mistake, or you may need a lawyer, but my first stop would be the office hat give building permits, usually the Planning Department.
posted by jbenben at 3:31 AM on January 25, 2017 [12 favorites]

Getting a lawyer right away seems dramatic in the extreme to me; find out more first. Read the form very carefully if you haven't yet. Then politely ask the contracter what the form's about and why she needs you to sign it when it isn't true. Then go to the county, tell them what the contractor said, and ask what the form's about. See what people say!

This seems much more like a mix-up than some kind of strange and elaborate scandal re: USPS routes.

Obviously don't sign something that makes claims that aren't true, but there's no harm in asking around to see if you can sort this out yourself before investing big bucks in lawyers
posted by MangoNews at 5:33 AM on January 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

russm, there is no defined length of time. Seemingly, we would be responsible in perpetuity.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 5:40 AM on January 25, 2017

New information this morning from my contractor. She says the county is updating its road maintenance agreements because they have missing language. She says the new construction down the street had to sign the same thing. But my question is that it isn't just the language that has changed, its the whole contract. In the new one there is no mention of the other parties that use the road, there is no definition of what part of the road we are responsible for, and its wrong about the USPS route. To be clear I have read both contracts VERY thoroughly.

I am going to call the public works office this morning, but I'm still very hesitant about signing this.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 6:40 AM on January 25, 2017

Don't sign it. Talk to a lawyer. The contractor isn't looking out for your interests, they're covering their own ass. Don't let them intimidate you with their talk of delays.

Memail me your zip code, if you'd like, and I'll see if anyone promising pops up.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:47 AM on January 25, 2017 [11 favorites]

It is never too early to get a lawyer when dealing with construction contracts and related permitting. These are complex legal documents impacting what can easily be the largest expenditure you will ever make. If you think you need a lawyer, find a lawyer. I'll agree, you can ask around first and see if you get satisfying answers, but don't avoid the lawyer route just because you think it's overkill. It may be, it may not be, that's what the lawyer is the best equipped to help you find out.
posted by meinvt at 7:08 AM on January 25, 2017 [4 favorites]

This is related to, but somewhat separate from, the lawyer question: If my GC insisted that I sign a legal document affecting my obligations for what was previously a shared maintenance obligation, and potentially converting it to my sole maintenance obligation, I would consider firing the GC unless his/her explanation as to why I should sign the document was (1) very good, and (2) very detailed. And even then I would still talk to a lawyer.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:01 AM on January 25, 2017 [8 favorites]

Good lord, do not sign that!! Visiting the permitting office as jbenben suggests is a good idea. You'll probably get more/better help if you go in person than call on the phone. Regardless of what they say, you'll need a lawyer. That may sound scary, but you need someone watching out for your interests! And if the county really is sending these blanket contracts to people, well, that's some shenanigans and you still shouldn't sign it. As your gut told you, it's not specific enough as to your responsibilities and conflicts with an existing contract you're a party to.

Also, so what if this means a delay in building your garage? I'm guessing it's not *critical* to your life the way a functioning bathroom or kitchen is or having a solid roof over your head. Don't let your contractor intimidate or rush you.
posted by purple_bird at 8:59 AM on January 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

You probably got a standard agreement filled in by non-lawyers, which might not accurately reflect the details of the arrangement. Consider this a draft of the contract-- contracts can be negotiated and redrafted. If you feel out of your depth, a lawyer is absolutely the person who can parse and negotiate this contract for you. You could also do some digging on your own, such as asking the party that issued the contract what certain language means and why certain clauses are so different. But really, it doesn't sound like you're comfortable doing this yourself (I wouldn't be because this is not my area of expertise, and I'd worry that whoever took my questions would just tell me it's totally standard, sign on the dotted, have a nice day.)

You probably won't need too much of a lawyer's time. And no, hiring a lawyer to review an important legal document before you sign it is in no way extreme and it doesn't mean you're in a dispute with anybody.

I'm sure your contractor does need this paperwork in place but she can't force you to enter into an agreement you don't agree with or understand. She's not a party to it so she can butt out. Tell her your attorney has to review it and you'll let her know when it's been executed. Your contractor should have brought this to your attention earlier if it was so crucial-- I bet she's rushing you now because she was remiss.
posted by kapers at 9:02 AM on January 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Right? How did this contractor get a whole foundation excavated before discovering this little issue? Surely the concern being insured here is road damage from heavy equipment. Digging a garage foundation is the most heavy-equipment intensive part of your job.

She's covering her ass. I'd say once you have any evidence of dishonesty you have to be prepared to find more. You gotta lawywr up.
posted by spitbull at 10:06 AM on January 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm still very hesitant about signing this

You shouldn't be hesitating; you should be flat refusing until you (a) understand WTF is going on and (b) are willing to accept the agreement your signature means you're agreeing to.

Never ever ever ever ever! sign anything that you don't fully understand.
posted by flabdablet at 10:15 AM on January 25, 2017 [4 favorites]

Just to update and thank everyone who has responded. Its been very helpful to have you all weigh in on this. As suggested I went in person to the office, and explained my concerns. There is indeed an issue with the fact that we are an existing postal route, and the county people were very understanding with my hesitancy to sign something that didn't mention the other parties involved (i.e the other property owners who use the road). They told me to go home and write up the version I would feel comfortable signing, leaving out the part about the USPS route. Then I submit it to them, and if they agree with what I've written, we will sign, and the permitting will move forward. Apparently the county's main concern is that we acknowledge in writing that they are not responsible for repairs or road maintenance on private roads.

I feel somewhat better about this and will consult with my husband to see if this is OK with him. If anyone is still reading, how does this sound to you? I don't think I need to get a lawyer involved now, but I'm interested in hearing other opinions if anyone has the time and inclination.

Once again, Thank you all very much for your responses.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 11:55 AM on January 25, 2017 [4 favorites]

I agree, at this point, wait on the lawyer. Draft what is acceptable (copy language from the actual existing agreement?) and submit. If it gets rejected or the changes they want to make are more than minor, then lawyer up. Good luck.
posted by AugustWest at 12:03 PM on January 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Surely you can’t single-handedly alter a road-maintenance contract that affects the other parties who were also previously responsible for the road? Don’t they have to be involved in this change somehow?
posted by pharm at 12:52 AM on January 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

And quite simply, why would you? If the road washes out clear up to the highway your neighbors will be very glad you're on the hook for the whole quarter mile of regrading.
posted by spitbull at 3:39 AM on January 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think pharm raises a good point. The contract will need to be signed by all the other parties, I would think? IANAL.
posted by purple_bird at 8:36 AM on January 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

So the way I've worded this is that I acknowledge that I understand that the county will not be upgrading my road. If I have an issue with the road conditions thats between my neighbors and I. There is a contract regarding this. The county doesnt care what condition my private road is in as long as emergency vehicles can get through. Also they said this is not a contract or an agreement its a statement. If that makes any difference.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:24 AM on January 26, 2017

You could try writing up something that says that you affirm that this is a private road; that there is a pre-existing road maintenance agreement by the private properties served by the road, including yours (see attached); that you are responsible for maintenance of the road to such a degree and only to such as degree as prescribed by that pre-existing road maintenance agreement.

If no one cares about the USPS thing, leave it out.

Attach a copy of your existing agreement.

The bureaucrats have a box they need to check to finish the paperwork, I'm guessing this will satisfy. If it isn't quite enough, offer to add a sentence that specifically acknowledges the county is NOT responsible for road repair - but I wouldn't go there unless you have to because it adds ambiguity in the whole multi-party thing.

(I'm not a lawyer, this isn't legal advice.)
posted by meinvt at 9:25 AM on January 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

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