Beware the private-road surcharge - BlueStone Press
June 15, 2021

Beware the private-road surcharge

An opinion essay from the BSP pages


Previously printed in the BSP in the 5/3/19 edition

During my nine years of owning a house on a private dirt road in Rosendale, I have paid a total of $3,500 to fill potholes. The first time I fixed the road, two of the 10 households on Riverview Drive each contributed $200. The second, third and fourth times, no one contributed.

Riverview Drive lacks a maintenance agreement or a homeowners association to finance repairs. That’s because it was built before 1995, when Rosendale began mandating that all private roads have such an agreement.

The lack of a maintenance agreement can mean one or two homeowners bear the brunt of fixing the road. Like Riverview Drive, most of Rosendale’s 44 private roads were built decades ago and are dirt or gravel, meaning they require at least yearly maintenance. But because they lack an agreement, some of these roads aren’t being maintained at all.

Chris Marks is a longtime resident of another private Rosendale road, Martins Lane. “I’ve been in that position for 25 years,” he said, of paying for repairs solo. “The reason our road is so bad now is the last five years, I said, ‘I’m done,’ and nobody else does it.” He added, “Now I’m disabled, so I can’t afford to do it.”

The issue affects all Hudson Valley towns, according to Stefan Bolz, an associate real estate broker with Berkshire Hathaway, but is more common in rural areas with older roads. And the impact stretches beyond those homeowners unlucky enough to end up shouldering the road-repair burden.

“Most banks require a road-maintenance agreement for a mortgage, and obtaining one can be challenging, depending on how many neighbors are involved,” Bolz said.

Sometimes obtaining one is impossible, and unless the buyer can pay in cash, the deal may fall through. Nicky Goin and her three children had lived on Riverview Drive since 2012, but last year, after a split from her husband, who owned their home, KeyBank denied her financing when a title search revealed the lack of a road-maintenance agreement. She was forced to uproot her three children and move.

“I feel all private roads should have an agreement in place, and I would never in a million years live on one without one again,” said Goin, who ended up buying a house in New Paltz on a public road. “I went through a six-month process to purchase the house, which was snatched away days before closing due to this factor. It was absolutely awful.”

Even when financing isn’t a problem, houses on roads without maintenance agreements are more difficult to sell because prospective buyers don’t want to deal with the hassle of figuring out how the road will get repaired and who will pay for it. All of this can affect a town’s performance in the real estate market.

“It’s ‘buyer beware’ in some instances,” said Dennis Doyle, director of Ulster County’s Planning Department. “The remedy is to change the status of the road to make it a town road, and there may be some objection to that.”

Town supervisor Jeanne Walsh declined to comment. Town councilman Matt Igoe responded, “Because it’s a private road, you and your neighbors on the street are responsible for all maintenance. You asked about the town taking over your private road. The consensus is that’s not something the town would consider doing. Your best bet is to work it out with your neighbors.”

Rosendale Highway Department superintendent Robert Gallagher said the town won’t take over Riverview Drive because “it’s too much work for us to keep it maintained.”

It’s too much work – and too much money – for me, too.

When shopping for homes, I was seduced by the location of mine, which overlooks the Wallkill River and provides an ever-shifting view of the glories of nature and a great kayak launch pad. The house also came with the low price tag and low taxes characteristic of Rosendale real estate.

What I didn’t count on was the private-road surcharge I would be paying year after year, which the town apparently doesn’t consider a serious issue.


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