We share a private road with 13 other families. The road needs substantial work to repair the damage caused by heavy trucks for garbage, recycling and yard waste services, all of which are required by our county. Some families refuse to pay any portion of the repair, claiming that they never use the portion of the road that requires repair. However, the trucks that caused the damage collect their garbage, recycling and yard waste. Is there any case law that states that damage caused by necessary public service trucks which service the entire street is the responsibility of all homeowners? This is in California. Thank you.
1 Answer from Attorneys
First, there are a couple of background questions that need to be researched and answered: (a) Is this truly a case of fourteen co-owners sharing the fee ownership as tenants in common or joint tenants, or are there easements involved or some other legal arrangement? (b) Is there anything in the documents under which this road-sharing arrangement was set up in the first place (deeds, a specific road agreement, etc.) that addresses maintenance responsibility? (I'd guess not, or you wouldn't be asking this question, but check carefully).
Next, check California Civil Code section 845(b), which addresses maintenance of easements owned by more than one person or attached to parcels of land held under different ownership. Any agreement among the parties re maintenance will be respected, or if no agreement, the cost of maintenance "....shall be shared proportionately to the use made of the easement by each owner." I suspect that even if this private road is in fact co-owned and no easement is involved, a court might apply the 845(b) principle in the absence of a maintenance agreement.
I would add that there's likely to be some disagreement as to the proportional share of the road damage and hence repair expense that's attributable to the trucks. States are constantly lobbied by auto groups, trucking interests, railroads, etc. over what share of highway maintenance should be borne by heavy trucks vs. other users. Ultimately, the best solution here might be for the owners (or easement holders) to submit the entire matter to voluntary mediation or arbitration; it'd be quicker and cheaper than 14 parties litigating in court. Distances between the homes, weight of the trucks, number of trips by cars vs. trucks, extent and quality of needed repairs, etc. as well as number of parties may make this more expensive to litigate than the amount of repair expense at issue. Also, neighbors should be negotiating, not suing each other.