Maintaining your Cottage Road

Many of the roads that lead to a neighbourhood of cottages are private roads – owned and maintained by a single property owner or a group of residents. Cottage owners are responsible for plowing private roads in the winter. In other seasons, residents along a private road apply gravel, grade the passageway, and fill potholes. Perhaps you have a cottage – or you’re contemplating buying one – and don’t see the need to plow the private road leading to the cottage in winter. After all, you do not plan to visit your cottage in the winter – only in the summer and the shoulder seasons. As long-time cottage-country residents, we believe it’s a good idea to ensure the private road leading to your cottage is accessible and passable throughout the year. Although you may not visit your cottage in the winter, emergency vehicles may need to. 

Similarly, people decide against clearing their driveway of snow because they never use their cottages in the winter. Nonetheless, despite your absence, there are good reasons to have your driveway plowed to ensure it is accessible. Accessibility is critical in an emergency, such as fire, when minutes – and seconds – count. Fire hydrants aren’t common along the rural roads of cottage country. As a result, if there’s a structural fire on a country road, the firefighting crew arrives at the scene with a pumper truck – a large vehicle with a ready water source. The primary water tank, which is inside the truck, can sometimes hold 1,000 gallons of water. If the firefighting crew cannot drive a pumper truck down the private road or your driveway, and an alternative water source is unavailable, the results could be catastrophic. After all, a few minutes can swing the balance between saving a burning structure and losing it to fire. Ready access to your property, which means a passable road and driveway, is critical in an emergency and can unfold at any time of the year.

Does your insurance policy cover the cottage if there is a mishap in the winter months? Does your policy insist that the cottage road be open so emergency vehicles can enter? Have you arranged for someone to do regular inspections to avoid snow piling on the roof or to check for break-ins? Have you advised your fire insurers that your drive or road is not plowed?, meaning that fire trucks have no winter access. Fire insurance policies could be at risk of cancellation or denial of coverage if the local firefighters do not have proper access due to unplowed roads.Other vehicles – like hydro trucks – won’t be able to repair damaged power lines if they can’t drive down a private road in the winter. Service vehicles also require sufficient clearance to turn around at the end of a road, which may be impossible with thick snow. It’s also important that rural roads are sanded to ensure these large vehicles can navigate them. If freezing rain has created an icy surface, driving the vehicle back up the road may be difficult if the incline is considerable.

Creating goodwill with your neighbours at the cottage: People with cottages further down your road may visit their weekend retreats during the winter. For this reason, the section of road adjacent to your cottage will need to be clear to allow access to their property. As mentioned earlier, owners of cottages on a private access road are responsible for the road’s maintenance. They typically create a group to arrange and pay for road maintenance services – from grading and pothole repairs to snow clearance and sanding. The individual property owners, or at least the group members, share the annual costs to maintain the private road. The road maintenance bill for each cottage owner can vary depending on the type of maintenance required. Contributing to a group fund to plow snow from the road – even if you don’t use the cottage in the winter – helps to build goodwill with your neighbours.

Research reveals a legal and moral obligation for all rights-of-way holders to contribute to road upkeep. Ontario case law has held that not paying a fair share creates an ‘unjust enrichment’ for the delinquents and disadvantages the rest who faithfully contribute. Moreover, because cottagers all hold rights-of-way, they all become legally responsible for road upkeep and potentially liable in case of a lawsuit over negligent road maintenance, etc. That was the turning point and decisive means of convincing everyone to contribute. It’s a wise expenditure. Your neighbours in cottage country will appreciate your gesture. They will likely look out for your interests or watch your property when you’re not there. In summary, many good reasons exist to plow your road and your driveway at the cottage during the winter.

Content borrowed from a cottage owners’ association website