Why am I paying taxes on easement [driveway] property?

Asked over 1 year ago - Johnstown, NY

I have asked in the past about easement property[driveway]. It has been explained to me . By several lawyers on this site. That I don't own the driveway. Went to trial. Judge granted the neighbors an easement involving property of driveway.So why isn't the land and school taxes paid by both of us? Why should I be the only one be taxed and have to pay for it?

Attorney answers (4)

  1. Richard J. Chertock

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    Answered . The easement is the right to pass over the property. In this case, it is the right to go over your land to use it as a driveway to access the neighbors land. Technically, you still own the land but the easement is attached to it and runs with the land, meaning whoever were to buy the land in the future would have to take it with the easement. Think of it in terms of a utility easement where a utility has the right to go over a portion of your land to maintain it's wires or pipes. You still own the land but you can not build on the portion that is covered by the easement because that would interfere with the utility's ability to maintain its lines.

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  2. Jack Richard Lebowitz

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    Answered . Mr. Bannon has given an excellent answer. You own the land which is "burdened" by a driveway, or right of way over which a neighbor can pass. Your assessed valuation depends on the value of the land plus the value of the "improvements", i.e., buildings.

    If you look at your tax bill, you'll likely see that perhaps 90% of the assessment is the market value of your home, not the land. Most vacant land has low taxes, unless it's an extremely desireable, buildable lot in a good location that somehow has avoided being improved.

    From the other questions on this forum, some of which I think I may have answered, this neighbor's right of way over your land doesn't "sit well" with you because you think you "own" it. I'd suppose, however, the assessor doesn't think the driveway depreciates the market value of your property all that much. If it does, grieve the taxes...grievance day is coming up in March. But you have to show that other similar property is assessed a lot less, it really doesn't revolve around your personal conceptual issues with land ownership and easements.

    Mr. Chertok also had an excellent example with utility easements. You can't build on a utility easement and they may have the rights to come in and cut your trees that grow near overhead wires. You may have even been compelled to grant the electric company that easement for free as a condition of them providing you with electric service (how would they access your property otherwise unless they had wires/pipes in an adjacent public highway).

    Yet, except for this minor legal interference with your complete "bundle" of property rights, the utility easement for providing you service doesn't interfere with your enjoyment of property (it may enhance it) and has no negative effect on your property's market value, and hence, your assessment.

    By way of contrast, when the New York State Power Authority, or another public utility, buys or condemns land for high-voltage transmission power lines, it typically pays 90% of the value of the land for the easement, because of the huge towers and preclusion of much continuous occupation of the land under the easement for most occasional uses, except, often for farming when farm workers are only occasionally exposed to electromagnetic energy during tilling, planting, harvesting, etc.

    The point of this discussion is that an easement may have a big or little effect on the overall value of your property, and what it's assessed at, but it really depends on how much the easement and its use depreciates the owner's use and enjoyment of the property and its market value.

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  3. John Christopher Bannon

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    Answered . If no other Avvo attorneys been able to answer your question in a satisfactory manner, it may be because there is no answer that would strike you as being just. If so, that is not necessarily surprising, The legal system often leads to results that reasonable people would consider unjust. However, attorneys do not make the law; that authority rests solely in the hands of judges and legislatures. We can only tell you what the law is -- not what it should be.

    I infer from your question that a court has declared that one of your neighbors has an easement to use a driveway on your property. Although it might be just for the easement holder to pay for a portion of the taxes on the property, the law does not require that he or she do so. A person who holds an easement has no ownership of the physical land itself; he or she only has an abstract legal right to pass over it. Property taxes are solely the responsibility of the person who owns the land. The law views you as being the sole owner of the earth within the boundaries of your property.

    This does not mean that the existence of the easement is irrelevant to the amount of taxes you can be asked to pay. You are taxed based upon the fair market value of your land. The existence of the neighbor's easement presumably decreases the fair market value of your land -- most people will pay more for land that is free and clear than for land that is encumbered by an easement. This means that the Town must assess your land in light of the easement. If the Town does not know that the court has granted your neighbor an easement over your land, go to the Town assessors office, tell them about what has happened, and ask them to reduce the assessed value of your land on account of the easement. The lower the assessed value of your land, the lower the amount of taxes you will pay.

    Town assessors are often uncooperative about reducing the assessed value of your land. If the assessor refuses to reduce the assessed value of your property voluntarily, I am virtually certain that you have the right to seek an abatement of your property taxes from a board that has the power to overrule the assessor.

    I do not know to what extent the easement actually devalues your property. Many factors affect market value. You would likely need an appraiser to answer that question. If the easement has little effect on the value of your property, you will not see much difference in the amount of taxes you have to pay on your property.

    I also recommend that you hire an attorney to help you seek a reduction in your taxes. Municipalities always have the upper hand in saying "no" when someone asks them for help. An attorney can advise how to level the playing field so as to maximize the odds of your obtaining a decrease in your taxes.

    I wish you the best of luck.

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  4. Michael C. Wild

    Contributor Level 13

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    Answered . The simplest way to address your question is by pointing out that based on your description, you are still the owner of the land in question. The easement does not transfer ownership. It merely gives another party (presumably the owner of the parcel which benefits from the use of the easement) a non-possessory ability to use your land for a specific purpose.

    As you remain the record owner of the land, you must pay the taxes levied against the land. I recognize this is likely not the answer you want to hear. For what it is worth, I am sorry you are unhappy with the Court's decision.

    This communication is intended only to provide general information. No attorney-client relationship is created.

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