Rights of Way and Easements
What is a "Right of Way" and who owns it? Rights of way are the area platted for public streets and utilities. The right of way associated with the street in front of your house is not technically owned by anyone. It is public land that is maintained by the respective jurisdiction. In the case of a City street, the City of Sunset Hills maintains this area and has jurisdiction over it that requires utilities and private entities to acquire excavation permits to maintain those services and associated improvements within those areas.
My neighbor is building too close to my property, what do I do? Call the City's Public Works Department to find out if a Building Permit was secured for the project. If they have a permit from the City and a competent contractor, you can be assured that they are within their rights to build as you are observing them doing so in the field. If you still have questions with regard to where your property line is located, then it is your responsibility to defend your private property rights and the City cannot become a means to your defense other than providing the documents filed with the City for the project. You may need to hire a private surveying company to determine where your property lines are located, but again this is incumbent upon you as a private property holder to maintain and defend your interests.
Where is the right of way in front of my home? The answer to this is best found from the plat you have of your property. The Public Works Department at City Hall has some of the subdivision plats in the City where this infomation can be found. A rough rule of thumb we use is, if you are on a concrete street that ends in a cul-de-sac, your right of way is likely 50' overall. You can typically find where your property starts by roughly measuring half the overall distance from the centerline of the street. In the case of a 50' right of way, that is 25' from the centerline. Most of our concrete streets are 26' wide. If you do the math, half of 26' is 13' and that leaves about 12' of the grass area past the curb as area of your front yard that you do not own, that is within the City's right of way. Now in the case of most asphalt streets, the right of way varies and you are best advised to find this information from a record plat of your property. We again use a rule of thumb that the right of way in these areas is 40' overall. As much of the asphalt pavement is about 24' wide, the math usually leaves us about 8' of yards to be within the right of way for these City streets.
Well if this right of way area is not mine, yet my yard goes to the curb, why should I cut the grass here if it is not technically my property? The Street Department will eventually come out to cut this area, but we make it out about once every 6 weeks with a flail mower that doesn't cut very nicely. If you have a nice yard, your expectations are likely higher for the proper maintenance of this area versus what the City's are for cutting the right of way area in front of your home. Most residents obviously choose to maintain this area by mowing it themself.
What is the difference between a right of way and an easement? In the case of an easement, one property owner allows another entity (jurisdiction, utility, municipality or individual) the right to access their private property with an improvement such as a road or a sewer line. In this case, the private property owner retains ownership of the affected ground. The easement is recorded at St. Louis County so it is there for posterity. The easement holder will have the permanent right to access that property to maintain or use their improvement (the sewer or road) for as long as the easement exists.
Can easements ever go away? Sure, and in some cases of road construction, temporary road easements are granted by private property owners so that the street can be properly improved. As long as there is not a permanent structure (like a sewer) that is placed in the temporary easement, the area can be used for temporary access by the contractor, but is typically restored without improvement to the landowner's satisfaction at the end of the project. Also if you have an existing utility easement on your property and want to remove easement rights you should do the following. Contact a real-estate attorney. Have the attorney petition the utilities that occupy the easement to abandon the easement. The utilities will work up the costs that you will have to pay to reroute and/or remove their facilities from the easement. This could run from thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. After moving their facilities the utilities will release their claim on the easement and the removal of the easement will be recorded at the county courthouse.
Why would I ever want to grant an easement to someone to place something through or along my property? This is a point of negotiation between the landowner and the entity or individual who would like to place the improvement on a privately owned piece of property. An assessment of the value of that property would need to be agreed among both parties before an easement can be recorded. Obviously, an easement becomes an area of that private property that the owner will not be able to substantially improve at a future date. You would not want to place an out building, addition or a deck in an area that is platted with an easement. If one day, the easement holder needs to come in and maintain their improvement (i.e. - road or sewer) then they might need to remove any improvements placed in that easement accordingly. It is not prudent practice to place improvements over an easement granted for another entity's use.
I need to know where my property ends and the Right of Way starts. Who can do this? This is not a service that the City of Sunset Hills supplies. Any registered land surveyor with the State of Missouri can find OIP's (Old Iron Pipes) or other markers that map out your property corners. They will likely take this information to St. Louis County and research any record plats and other documents to determine what easements and other encroachments exist on the property.
What would such a survey cost me? Prices can range from a couple of hundred dollars, to many thousands of dollars depending on the complexity of the layout of your land. This is a matter that you would need to negotiate between yourself and the engineering company whom you would hire to perform the survey.
Where can I get names of surveying companies? Look in the Yellow Pages under "Surveyors-Land."