Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Q. We are having a problem with a neighbor who has an easement across our property.

He believes that we can’t use “his” road and that he owns it. He also is upset because he says we aren’t taking good care of the road.

I’m amazed at how often I get questions about road easements. They are not well understood. You should ask an attorney to review the easement itself to be sure that there are no unusual features to it, but here is an answer based on my experience and those easements I’ve dealt with.

The property is yours. You own it and pay taxes on it. An egress and ingress easement is just giving someone else permission to cross your land to get to their property, nothing more. Because it’s your property you can use the road for your own purposes. The maintenance of the road is totally the responsibility of the person benefiting from the easement unless you have some sort of maintenance agreement.

Another issue I’ve heard about from time to time is the question concerning whether the person using the easement can grant permission to another property owner to use it. Unless there is specific language to the contrary, most easements can’t be passed on to others. They apply only to that single property.

I would start with a letter to your neighbor outlining your rights and his. Include a copy of the easement, which you can find in your title policy. If you want to make this a pleasant relationship, then you might agree to help maintain the road, especially if you are using it. That would be a fair way to handle it.

Again, check with an attorney to be sure that it’s a standard easement with no unusual clauses.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Q. Why are taxes going up so much?

Our home gets reassessed almost every year and we’re worried that we won’t be able to afford to live here after retirement. I thought we passed some new law a few years ago to limit tax increases.

First, you have to understand that the tax rate hasn’t gone up. It is limited by law. It isn’t the tax rate that’s gone up, it’s the value of our real estate. Our current rate is something like $12.00 for each thousand dollars of value. So, a home valued at $300,000 pays about $3600.00 per year in taxes. As an example, if you purchased your home in the 80’s for $50,000 and it’s worth $350,000 today, you can see why you are paying higher taxes.

It’s important to understand that real estate values have gone up all around the country and especially in the popular Puget Sound region. Vashon Island was sort of “discovered” in the early 1990’s and it’s been a “hot” market ever since. More folks want to live in our wonderful community than we have homes to sell them. This drives up the prices and that’s what the County uses to set their new assessments.

With rare exception, most of the tax statements I’ve looked at for clients reflect the current market value. Most people can’t really make a case for a lower assessment. About all you can do is investigate every tax savings mechanism available and see if you qualify. There are great tax breaks for low-income seniors for instance, and you can get tax benefits from setting aside wildlife habitat and open space.