Making Progress on Orphan Roads

One worst surprises that can happen to a homeowner is finding out there is no plan for maintenance on road in front of the house.

For some homeowners, unexpected road maintenance costs are too much to bear. If a road falls into disrepair, banks might not approve a mortgage. That makes it hard to sell. In the worst cases, homeowners could also lose basic services like trash collection, school buses, and emergency medical service because of unsafe road conditions.

The NC Homeowners Alliance and NC REALTORS have been working with legislators on this issue for several years, and progress is being made.

The NC Department of Transportation took the first step by creating a searchable map of all roads to help show ownership status. Remember that all roads in North Carolina are either a state road, municipal road or private road. We have more details on how to use the map below.

In 2021, the North Carolina General Assembly might more directly address the problem of orphan roads. The regulatory reform bill would require the NC Department of Transportation to take over subdivision roads within 90 days of a request. This provision requires that the roads meet DOT’s standards for acceptance into the state road maintenance system.

The most important step for solving this problem is to appropriate funds for bringing roads up to state standards. The North Carolina House's version of the 2021 budget would allocate $30 million for this purpose. However, there is not yet a clear process for determining exactly how that money would be spent.

 

Checking on your road

If you want to get a clearer picture on the ownership of your road, you can start with the state database. After looking up your road, answer the following questions.

Do you live on a state road (dark black in the map with a state road designation)? Then you can stop now. The state takes care of your road.

if you don't live on a state road, then think about the following questions.

Do you live within city limits?

If your answer is YES, it is possible your street is maintained by the city. In larger cities, private streets will often be labeled private. But not always. You can check with your city government to determine if your street is city-maintained.

If you don't live within city limits and don't live on a state road, your street is likely privately maintained

Does your neighborhood have a homeowners association? 

If yes, it is a good idea to find out if your association is responsible for street maintenance. It is an even better idea to make sure the association is properly budgeting for maintenance.

If you live outside city limits, on a non-state road and you have no HOA, then responsibility for street maintenance could be part of the deed on your property. It is also possible that there is no legal framework for maintenance on your road.

Do you live within a planned development?

If yes, some cases of "orphan roads" happen when a development's streets do not get turned over to the state for maintenance as originally planned.

How old is your street?

If your street is less than 10 years old, it is possible that maintenance has not yet been an issue. Therefore, no one has spotted a problem in terms of responsibility. It can be quite some time before subdivision streets need significant maintenance. If you street is 20 years old or more and in good condition, there is a good chance that it is under maintenance. But it never hurts to confirm the responsibility.

Did you get an unfortunate surprise on your street?

The NC Homeowners Alliance has been working with legislators to tackle some of the state's problems with orphan roads. Legislators have been looking at planned developments in which roads were supposed to be turned over to the state but were not. Are you in this situation? We want to hear about it.