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Know the Law: Neighbors Can Agree on Lake Shore Access

Written by: Ashley B. Scott

Published in the Union Leader (7/2/2017)

Q: My family has a lake house with no frontage on the water, but we have always used a path across our neighbor’s land to access the beach. Our deed references the path. I think it says the path is 10-feet wide.

We reopened the house for the season last weekend, and I noticed the neighbors had constructed a stone wall across the path. 

We can still get to the lake by stepping over the wall or using a boat launch down the street. We do not have any relationship with the neighbor. They bought their house a few years ago, and we have never really spoken.

What should we do about the stone wall?

A: The best scenario for your family and your neighbor is to agree — without an attorney — about how to access the lake. Just because your neighbor has placed an obstacle across the easement does not mean you have to do anything at this very moment. You have time to decide what to do. 

At some point sooner than 20 years from now, however, you will need to decide how you want to handle the stone wall. Before deciding how long you can wait, we will first want to look at whether the path you use is a deeded access way, also known as an easement. 

We would want to check the width and location in your deed. You should be aware that your deed may not clearly define the path that accesses the beach because deeds frequently fail to describe easements specifically. Your family’s historic use of the path likely defines the easement, so you should continue to use the path while you decide how to proceed. 

When you choose to act, you have a variety of options to evaluate depending on your relationship with your neighbor at that time; other access you have to the lake; and whether you can cross your neighbor’s property in other places. 

On a range of the least aggressive to the most aggressive course of action you could pursue, you could release your easement right, relocate your easement right, more specifically define it or strictly enforce it. 

You should also consider the value of the easement to your lot, and the value to your neighbor’s lot of removing or relocating the easement. An attorney could help you achieve your goal by discussing these details with you.

Ashley Scott can be reached at ashley.scott@mclane.com.

Know the Law is a bi-weekly column sponsored by McLane Middleton, Professional Association. We invite your questions of business law. Questions and ideas for future columns should be addressed to: McLane Middleton, 900 Elm Street, Manchester, NH 03101 or emailed to knowthelaw@mclane.com. Know the Law provides general legal information, not legal advice. We recommend that you consult a lawyer for guidance specific to your particular situation. 

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