We use them almost every day. We walk on them, drive on them, see them going past the window when we’re on the train. They are on the news, on our favourite TV programme, they’re even in the papers, although usually to complain about how congested they are and badly maintained.
But have you ever thought about how important roadways are to your property, or the property you want to buy? You couldn’t reach your front door without them. Have you also thought about who owns the roadways outside your home, and who is responsible for looking after them? You might assume that it’s the local authority, and that maintenance is automatically their responsibility, but that isn’t always the case.
There are a number of different types of roads, and if you are buying a property, you should know if you have any unusual roads that will affect your transaction.
Most roadways in this country are public. This means that anyone can use them without any restrictions and they are automatically maintained by the local authority for that area. The only exception to this is toll roads (such as the road that runs through the Dartford crossing). There are also congestion charges for driving in certain areas of central London. These provisions don’t stop anyone from using them, provided they have paid any fees applicable.
If the road that your house is on, is a public road, then there will be no restriction on when you can use them, but there may be parking restrictions, and you will still be subject to the usual laws. For example, you cannot adjust the driveway, by, for example, expanding it so that the access to the road is wider, without planning permission.
You may be tempted to buy a property on a private road. This can sometimes be a gated community or a private estate, or it could be because it is a new build development.
Living on a private road may have some benefits. Private roads mean that the general public cannot use it whenever they like or there may be restrictions as to when they can use it. For example, if you live near a large public venue, such as Wembley Stadium, there may be certain times when the general public cannot use (or park on) your road, so that you do not become stranded every time there is a concert or a football match.
On the other hand, living on a private road can have its drawbacks. It may mean that you and all of the other residents are responsible for the cost of its maintenance and it’s unlikely that you will receive any kind of reduction in your council tax to make up for this. What’s more, in addition to further costs, you will have to work with the other residents to agree on who is doing what. It is often quite sensible to form a residents’ association and have properly appointed members who put suggestions to the group (such as getting quotes for renovation works and the collection in of annual dues) and are then responsible for implementing any decisions that the group make. A well-run, well organised residents management can be more efficient than any council.
How do I know if my road is public or private?
It should be very obvious from any inspection of the property whether it is a private road. The very nature of having a private road means that you want everyone to know that it is private. The general public must be aware that they cannot freely drive down it or park on it unless they have a legitimate reason for being there, such as visiting a resident. However, if there are no signs up, then it does not automatically confirm that the road is almost certainly a private road.
However, if you have any concerns, you should ask your solicitor to check on whether the road is private, and if so, what the conditions are. For example, are there restrictions on parking and what are the likely extra costs going to be.
Having a road being adopted
If a road is private, you and the other residents can take steps to have it adopted by the local authority so that it becomes a public road. This most commonly happens with a new housing development where the road (or roads if it’s a large development) belong to the developer until the development has come to an end and then the maintenance of the roads will become the responsibility of the local authority.
If you are buying a house on a new development that is still under construction, there are a few specific questions that you should ask your solicitor to look in to before you decide to proceed.
Firstly, you should check that the necessary arrangements have been made for the road that your house is on to be adopted. There will be paperwork and costs involved, and you want to make sure that this is the responsibility of the developer and not of you and your neighbours.
Secondly, you want to know when that adoption is going to take place. If it is not going to happen until the development is finished, and you are one of the earlier purchasers, this may mean you will be driving up and down unmade up roads for a period of time. Whilst you shouldn’t have to pay towards the maintenance and upkeep of those roads, it does mean that you are likely to have some inconvenience in the meantime. Driving over unmade roadways can be hard on your vehicle, such as damaging your suspension and paintwork. You might want to take this into account particularly when negotiating the price of the purchase.
Finally, you should consider what happens if there are delays in the project being finished, and so delays in the roads being finished and handed over to the council. In a worst case scenario, the developer could become insolvent and the estate might never be finished, or it could take much longer than was originally anticipated. Ask your solicitor to find out what the risks are to you if this should happen. Will the council adopt the roads and if so, will there be any costs to you?
As well as having private roads, that only some people can drive down, you can sometimes have a property where you share the rights over the driveways. This could mean a shared driveway, where, perhaps, you each have a garage to the rear of the property and you both can drive over one driveway to access your garages. This could also occur where one house is built behind another house, and the owner of the rear property has the right to drive over the driveway of the house at the front to access their building.
Whilst arrangements like this can be very cost effective (such as shared costs) at the point of site assembly and dealing with roadways, it can also be problematic. It can work fine if you are on good terms with your neighbour, but can lead to conflict if you are on bad terms.
If you are buying a property where you are sharing any land or rights with your neighbour, make sure you ask your solicitor to explain to you what this will mean in practice, what your rights and obligations are, and whether the people you are buying from have ever had any difficulties enforcing those rights and abiding by the obligations.
Disclaimer – our articles are designed to give you guidance and information. There is no substitute for proper direct advice, particularly as everyone’s circumstances are different. If anything in this article may affect you, please contact us for advice that is specific to your circumstances.