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  • Writer's pictureMike Roberts

Knowing the Difference Between Public and Private Streets

Most roads are public thoroughfares, maintained by local, state or federal authorities and paid for with tax dollars. But that’s not always the case, which is why it’s smart for potential home buyers to ask about street ownership and maintenance.

Public versus private streets

A public street is any road open for public travel, under the jurisdiction of a public authority and maintained by a public authority. The majority of streets in any city are public. If one of these roads needs to be repaired, the government takes care of it. In contrast, a private road is usually for an individual to gain access to a piece of land. Typically, a private road can be accessed by the public, but the landowner is responsible for all upkeep on the road. Call your city planner or tax office to see if a road is public or private.

Private road concerns

If you want to buy a home on a private road, check with the local authorities to find out what your responsibilities are. More than likely, you would share the duty of maintaining and repairing the road with fellow landowners along the road. Liability for anyone injured on the road could potentially fall on you as well. Trash and cleanup services, as well as emergency services and school bus routes, may also be affected.

Buyer beware

Developers will sometimes build subdivisions with private roads to save money and avoid local and state construction guidelines. They can use cheaper materials to build and pass those savings onto home buyers. However, roads don’t have an unlimited lifespan. When the roads need to be replaced, the cost will fall on homeowners, which can become a financial burden.

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