I don’t own the strip of ground along the road? This is a question we often get from homeowners. It usually comes after we have surveyed the property and marked the corners. The property owner is standing on their front corner and states “I thought I owned to the road?” We answer that the ground between your property corner and the road is called the right-of-way (ROW) of the road.

“What is a right-of-way?” According to Black’s Law Dictionary, it is a “term used to describe a right belonging to a party to pass over land of another.” We will stick to road ROWs for this article.

Your property is described in the legal description on your deed. Legal descriptions are written in many different ways, but most of them include some type of metes and bounds description containing bearings and distances (parcel size and shape). The description usually includes any roads your property touches. It may also include language such as “to the title line” or to the “side of the road”. Either way, every road that is dedicated for public use is a right-of-way.

“What is the ROW width in front of my property?”

Your deed may or may not state the width of the ROW. Even if it does, it may depend on when the deed was written, as the width may have changed due to later dedications. Ask your municipality or whoever has responsibility for the road what the current ROW width is.

“What can I do with the right-of-way?”

We explain to our clients that the ROW is yours to maintain, but we recommend not placing any improvements (fences etc.) in it due to the fact that whoever has work to do inside the ROW (state, municipality, utility company, etc.) does not have to replace any of your improvements affected by their work.

“If I don’t own it, I’m not going to mow it!”

This logic does not work. You may not be deeded the land between you and the edge of the pavement, but it is your responsibility to maintain. Just ask your local municipality. Depending on where you live, they may even hand over a hefty fine for not maintaining your portion of the ROW.

Road ROWs can be complicated as not all road ROWs are the same width and even the same road can have varying ROW widths. ROWs are not the only rights that others may have to your property. Easements on your property may or may not be written in your deed. These easements can be for many things, including utilities or trails.

We have only just scratched the surface on this subject. We would love to discuss any questions you may have about right-of-ways and easements that may affect your property.