Knowing the Difference Between Public and Private Streets

Not all roads are created equal. Living on a private street can be costly. Find out why here.


Most roads are public thoroughfares, maintained by local, state, or federal authorities, and paid for tax dollars. But that’s not always the case, which is why it’s wise 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. Repairing of roads is one of the responsibilities of the government. In contrast, a private road is usually for an individual to gain access to a land piece. Typically, the public can access a private road, 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 determine your responsibilities. More than likely, you would share the duty of maintaining and repairing the road with fellow landowners along the route. Liability for anyone injured on the road could potentially fall on you as well. Trash and cleanup services and 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 make and pass those savings onto home buyers. However, roads don’t have an unlimited lifespan. When the streets need replacement, the cost will fall on homeowners, becoming a financial burden.

Published by Jeff Anderson

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