For a property owner whose property does not adjoin a public road and does not have access either through an express access easement or by legal implication, Pennsylvania’s Private Road Act (the “Act”) offered the landlocked property owner a remedy.
Since the Act was adopted in 1836, the owner of landlocked property could petition the court of common pleas in the county where the property is located for a Board of Viewers to lay out a road on adjoining property for access to a public road for the landlocked property. The damages for creating the road as determined by the Board of Viewers would be paid by the owner of the landlocked property. The benefit of the Act was to provide the means for accessing otherwise inaccessible and unproductive tracts of land across the state.
Several recent appellate court cases on the subject, however, have called into question the constitutionality of this remedy and its availability to redress the problem. The new standard is that a landlocked property owner must establish that the public is the primary and paramount beneficiary of the opening of a road to the landlocked property. Otherwise per these cases, the taking of another’s property for an access easement would in effect be an unconstitutional taking of another’s property.
Historically, in some farming communities, landowners conveyed agricultural lands together with a wood lot on nearby property. The wood lot was often not contiguous to the agricultural land, did not front a public road, and access easements to a public road were not expressly granted. Sometimes, a right of access is nevertheless available by an argument of legal necessity or other legally recognized implication. As a result of these recent Pennsylvania appellate court cases, obtaining access to landlocked property will be extremely difficult without the support and assistance of a neighboring land owner and/or the expense of a detailed analysis of the title history of the property.
In summary, if you own landlocked property, its value may have been diminished due to the higher standard that likely applies for relief under the Act. Conversely, if you own property adjoining or leading from a public road to the landlocked property, your legal position has been strengthened to deny access under the Act or to demand a higher payment for granting access voluntarily.
Mette, Evans & Woodside attorneys can work with you to evaluate various title issues, including access rights, affecting your real estate, and can assist in the drafting of Access Easements as necessary.