If it were up to me, all homeowners would be responsible for maintaining the section of road directly in front of their property out to the middle of the street. To make sure everyone maintained their portion of the road, a local committee of elected members would have the authority to keep the road in good condition and charge property owners according to a road maintenance agreement.
Since it is not up to me, road maintenance agreements (RMAs) are relegated to large-parcel subdivisions and lower-end road conditions. You might find an RMA out on McNab Ranch Road, Spy Rock Road or Bell Springs, but you won’t find one for properties on State Street in Ukiah.
Typically, RMAs are legally recorded documents connected to a parcel such that anyone who buys the property has to adhere to the agreement. Usually, a committee or board of directors administers the RMA, elected by property owners who are subject to the agreement. The committee is then charged with enforcing the agreement and deciding when road repairs or maintenance are required.
The committee’s power is limited, of course. They cannot unilaterally choose to turn a narrow dirt road into a paved, three-lane road with a landscaped median, curbs, gutters, and sidewalks and expect people to pay for it. Instead, they have the authority to decide issues like when to fix potholes, schedule re-grading, add a culvert or maybe repair a bridge.
Sometimes, private parties build significant roads, often as part of a housing subdivision, and then they give or “dedicate” the road to the city or county where the subdivision is located. This works out fine as long as the developer builds the road to the government’s specifications.
None of us wants to see substandard roads in the city—we have enough of those already. Any newly developed roads intended to be given to the City of Ukiah or County of Mendocino are required to meet standards that ensure the roads last for years. As a taxpayer, I have no interest in public monies going to repair 18-month-old roads because a contractor was trying to save a couple bucks.
Like many things in the building trades, if you’re going to go to all the trouble to build something, you might as well use good materials and have the work last. When you’re painting, for example, much of the cost of the job is the labor to prep and paint and clean up afterwards. It takes just as much effort to paint with low-grade paint as it does with good paint. Why not use paint that will last?
Same with roofing. Why use three-year shingles when you can spend a little more and get 30-year shingles? It may seem like a lot of money at the time, but if you add up the cost of having the house re-painted or re-roofed every few years instead of every decade, you’ll see that using good materials actually saves you money over time. Roads are no exception. If you skimp on the thickness of base rock, for example, you can cut the life of a road in half. It’s best if the developer who lays down the road builds it as though he were responsible for maintaining it, but that’s not always the case.
If you’re considering buying a property where a road maintenance agreement is part of the deal, be sure to do your homework. Find out how recently the road was repaired and whether any major maintenance is planned in the near future. Ask the RMA committee for a copy of the agreement and their financial statements. The people selling you the property can only disclose what they know, so doing a little due diligence on your own can save you from nasty surprises later.
If you have questions about getting into real estate, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (707) 462-4000. If you have an idea for a future column, share it with me and if I use it, I’ll send you a $25 gift certificate to Schat’s Bakery. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.