Legal Q&A: is this private road going to cost me dear?

We want to buy a house in a private road where current owners pay a few hundred pounds a year for road maintenance. Could the owner of the road demand a bigger contribution?
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Question: My wife and I want to buy a house in a private road, and the deeds say we would have “free and unlimited access” along the road. The house has stables and we would like to change the use to create a livery business — which will create extra trade, including horseboxes. The present owners make a “voluntary contribution” to maintaining the road of a few hundred pounds a year. Could the owner of the road — from a neighbouring property — sting us for a much bigger contribution?

Answer: Irrespective of the wording of your “free and unlimited access”, this right will normally be restricted by the physical capacity of the road.

Where there is an express right of way like this, I would expect there to be an obligation to contribute to the costs of repairing and maintaining the road. The normal rule is that you cannot enjoy the benefit of a right without taking on the obligations that go with it. You need to look at the title deeds carefully to see if there is, in fact, such an obligation.

Is there free and unlimited access for pedestrians and vehicles? Is the use of the private road connected to private usage of the property, or can the property be used for business purposes and commercial vehicles?

It is interesting to note that the current owner has contributed voluntarily towards the maintenance costs of the private road. More information should be obtained in this regard, particularly as the owner of the road may have a different  view about whether there was a binding obligation to pay this money, rather than it being a voluntary contribution from your seller.

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If you have a question for Fiona McNulty, please email or write to Legal Solutions, Homes & Property, London Evening Standard, 2 Derry Street, W8 5EE. We regret that questions cannot be answered individually but we will try to feature them here. Fiona is legal director in the real estate group of Foot Anstey LLP in Exeter (
These answers can only be a very brief commentary on the issues raised and should not be relied on as legal advice. No liability is accepted for such reliance. If you have similar issues, you should obtain advice from a solicitor.

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