What are the qualifications for private streets?

I always assumed it’s something that rich people can buy themselves into…then last weekend I noticed there’s a street in my town that is private, however the houses are middle-class.

I’m just wondering how can a street be made private. Can there be more than one reason? Who contacts who, to make a street private?

If you build the street, you can choose not to add it to the public streets in your locality. This means that you are responsible for its repair and for things like clearing snow in the winter.

If the street was built with public funds, it’s unlikely that you could take it private. You’d have to pay the municipality for it, assuming they’re even willing to sell.

Most private roads were built by a developer, who did not ask the town/city to take it over. (Often in developments, the developer builds the roads and transfers them to the municipality; this is often required as part of the agreement to build the development).

We have two private streets in our neighborhood. In both cases the developers build the road when they built the houses, but when they tried to turn it over to the township the township said “no, thanks, keep it”. I don’t think the homeowners are too happy about it, as now they have to collectively arrange and pay for items such as road repairs and snow removal.

I have no idea why the township turned down the road transfers; perhaps they weren’t built to the right specs.

We have a private street in my neighborhood that was formerly public. It is a long, straight street that people were driving through at excessive speeds to get to the nearby expressway entrance and using as kind of a drag-racing venue. The residents petitioned the city to make the street private, thereby agreeing to pick up the cost of closing one end off and, as RealityChuck says, the cost of snow removal. I believe the city still pays for street lighting and sewer maintenance, and other utilities are public.

The closed-off end of the street is now a big garden, and the residents have made it one of the most beautiful spots in the area, with flowers and landscaping. It added 2-3 minutes to my morning commute, because I, too, used to go out that way to get to the expressway ramp. But the speeding was getting out of hand.

I live on a private street, or since it’s gravel I guess it’s a road. We contribute $250 a year for maintenance. It’s a dead end road, so folks cutting through are not a problem.

The road does not meet the county’s standards for width etc. so it will always be private.

As others have indicated, it would be extremely complicated to “make a street private.” There are, however, streets being constructed all the time that are on private property. Like GaryM, I live on a private road. When this subdivision was built, the road simply wasn’t made to county standards and turned into a public road. We (all of us living out here) all chip in to have it maintained, plowed, and repaired when necessary.

So it’s no so much making public roads private, it’s making new roads and never making them public in the first place.

Are the public use laws any different for private streets?

For example, are door to door salesmen, and other solicitors trespassing?

People walking, and cutting through on a private street. Are they technically trespassing too?

My dad is a member of a deer camp. The gravel road is private and it’s gated with a padlock.
Wouldn’t work too well in a city.

That’s going to vary from state to state, county to county, town to town. Basically, though, a private road is just a shared driveway.

Around here, you can certainly put a “private road” sign out, and attach any conditions you want (e.g., “no solicitors”). You have to be careful with the “no trespassing” signs, because there are people we really want driving down our road: ambulances, fire trucks, pizza delivery guys…

If it really is a private road, then it is running on private property. In our case, the homeowners here have an association that owns the road, a few feet on either side of it, and several other common areas. We can slap a gate across it if we choose.

That’s true in a city as well. Assuming no code violations, you and three buddies can buy a big lot in town and build four houses on it. You then add a single driveway (i.e., private road) that splits off in the middle to go to all four garages.

This is interesting,because there’s a whole pile of laws (IANAL) about easements and acess to private property. You cannot usually get a lot without having some access to it from the public land.

So if a bunch of people own a series of lots on an area of land, and their only access is through a “private road”, what would their rights be and what rights do th owners of the road have? Do they actually own their land properly, if theer is no easement included in the title? or are they joint owners of the road land?

If for example, the company owning the road went belly up and stopped paying taxes, the city would get the land by foreclosure for lack of taxes. they couldn’t really sell it to anyone or close off access because that would deny owners the right to their land…

Or is all the land, including the road, owned by a condominium corporation and the owners really don’t fully “own” their land any more than a condominium owner in a high rise owns anything other than the right of occuation of their apartment?

On such picky details do lawyers earn their pay…

In my area (Worcester MA) we have many private streets. In most cases they are streets that the developer did not build to city standards, so the city will not maintain them. They are usually dirt or poorly paved roads. Other than the city not maintaining the roads they are like public roads - There is still plowing and trash pickup for example.

If the residents on a private street want it made public (in my town) they all must pitch in to get it paved to city standards.


In my town you, the new land owner, need to petition the town for right of access to the ajoining public road - basically it just grants you the right to drive off the private road onto the public one. It seems to mostly be a novel way for the town to generate revenue, but the access granted is permenent, and does not need to be renewed if the property doesn’t change hands.

Two kinds I know of , both in NYC. In Breezy Point, there’s a gate with a guardhouse at the entrance to the development. You don’t get past the gate without a resident authorizing it. In Forest Hills Gardens, which is not gated, although the streets are privately owned pedestrian and vehicle traffic can use the streets, but only residents and their guests can park on them.

It’s not uncommon here, if you’re talking about random pieces of land (not subdivisions).

If there is a private road adjoining, they must have permission to use it. Often they will arrange an “access easement” with the person who owns the road.

Yes. I’ve heard it called “landlocked” property.

If there is an access easement, it runs with the land; any future person or entity who owned the road would be subject to the particulars of the access easement. If there is no easement, the road could certainly be closed.

I’ve seen subdivisions with private streets done this way, where there are “common areas” in the subdivision, including the private streets, and all the homeowners pay into a fund which provides for upkeep.

Regarding making a street “private”: the city may, if they wish, decide to close a public street or right-of-way. In such a case they can turn ownership of the land back to the adjoining property owners.

To add to the picture, some towns have public easements over private land. For example, an area that is divided into a large lots will have public easements for streets between some of the lots. Any structures built on those lots have to treat the easement as if there were a street there in terms of setbacks and such. I don’t think it was permitted to build fences blocking. And any street built there would have to meet town standards.

There was a wooded area near where I grew up that was set up that way. The town had even put in fire hydrants. But no one had built along the easement, so no further development was done. I’m not sure how true it was, but my understanding was that since it was a public easement, one could cross the land along it without illegally trespassing.

In some states, the residents of the street can petition the local governing board or highway agency to abandon the public street. If it happens, then the land in each half of the highway right-of-way would become the property of each adjacent property owner for the length of the property’s frontage.

Little-known fact: Federal law and some state laws require that all traffic signs and pavement markings on all public and private roads open to the public conform to national standards for such devices. This means that the wooden, non-reflective road stop signs and speed limit signs, mounted 3 or 4 feet above the ground, especially those that say 16 mph or 26 mph that some architect designed at great cost are illegal and technically unenforceable.

see: Introduction - MUTCD 2009 Edition - FHWA

There’s even a federal manual that stipulates the ways that such devices can and should be used. It’s called the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. There’s another manual that specifies the exact design of every feature of the standard signs. It’s called the Standard Highways Signs Manual. See Standard Highway Signs and Markings Book - FHWA MUTCD (It’s under revision)

Technically, those were probably dedicated (but unimproved) streets, rather than mere easements. These “paper streets” are the bane of mapmakers like myself. I spend many hours trying to decide which ones to show. It’s quite a judgment call in the desert Southwest, where a road may be undriveable in my airport rental car, but all the local residents have 4WD trucks. The distinction between “streets” and shared driveways can also be quite tricky.

There are private streets with gates in St. Louis. I can tell no difference between those and public streets except for the gates in the roadway. Sidewalk access is open.

I can find no information on the city website regarding regulations on creating a private street.

That’s true, but it’s not really a matter of law. It’s a matter of banks’ and title insurance companies’ underwriting standards. A bank is highly unlikely to write a mortgage for a property that has no guaranteed access to a public road. Maybe the current owner has an informal agreement with their neighbors that they’re allowed to cross their land in order to get to the public road. Heck, they may own the neighboring lot. But if the bank forecloses on the property, they won’t be able to re-sell it if they can’t guarantee access for the new owner. So they typically won’t make a loan on the property without requiring the borrower to obtain an access easement (different jurisdictions use different names; it could be called an access easement, private road easement, ingress/egress easement, or right-of-way agreement) and have it filed in the county land records, as NinetyWt describes.

Similarly, a title insurance company will not insure that the owner of the land, or the holder of the mortgage, has a clear title without guaranteeing access over the private road. They can write an insurance policy, but it will include a massive exception from coverage, excepting any claims that may arise from a lack of access to a public road. Meaning that, if one day you’re coming home from work and find that your neighbor has barricaded their portion of the road, leaving you homeless, your title insurance company will not reimburse you for the home you’ve lost, or reimburse you for legal fees you may incur by seeking a court order to force your neighbor to grant you an easement. Owners may be comfortable with such a large exception from coverage on their policies; banks virtually never are–most banks will not accept a title insurance policy with any exceptions from coverage beyond what’s required by statute in that jurisdiction.

It’s possible to seek such a court order; it’s difficult to give a general explanation of the likelihood it will be granted, as the governing law varies by jurisdiction, and the court must consider the particulars of the situation.

Suppose I have a piece of land that lies between two public roads. I decide to build a road across my land which connects these two public roads. I don’t want to cut my property in half so I keep the road legally private and maintain ownership. But I’m a nice guy so I let people drive on my road.

If somebody crashs their car on my road, am I legally liable?

Am I required to maintain my road and keep it plowed in the winter?

Can I set my own speed limit on the road?

I can understand the problems. For the case where I grew up, there were one-foot diameter trees growing in the “easement”. Anyone with a photo would know it was undrivable. :slight_smile: