From the May 2008 issue of mtl (formerly Mt. Lebanon) magazine:
For some people, the four most alluring words in the language are “I know a shortcut.” You know who you are. There’s a tiny little thrill that comes with knowing that if you cut down—well, we’re not going to say—it will shave a couple of minutes off your trip. But as gratifying as it is to be able to get someplace faster and cleverer, it’s good manners to respect property lines. Houses just a block or two away from schools are very desirable if you’re a parent, but the convenience factor wanes when you’re picking up notes and doodles, homework and lunch remnants from your yard twice a day.
Ask permission before crossing someone’s property. This isn’t something that’s restricted to school-age kids. In many neighborhoods, long-established walking and visiting patterns can be viewed as intrusive by newcomers. Just because good old Fred never said anything about you trampling through his garden on the way to drop in on Tom and Nancy doesn’t mean you have an easement when he sells the place. In the course of introducing yourself to the new neighbors (always a nice thing to do anyway) ask if it’s OK to cut through once in a while to save a few steps. As an incentive, you can always offer to share some of your best neighborhood
shortcuts with them. As long as they promise to keep them to themselves.
—sponsored by the mt. lebanon community relations board
It's interesting that this note does not distinguish between cutting through someone's back yard and walking on pathways paved in concrete or stone. But maybe it should. In the former case, there is potential damage to plants, peace, and privacy. By all means, where possible, ask permission first. In the latter case, because of the appearance of the "secret path," public use is likely more legitimate; private property interests are less compelling. Mt. Lebanon is filled with both kinds -- shortcuts, and secret (paved) paths.
Why treat these things differently? Among other reasons, in the latter case it's more likely that there really is an easement recorded in the county records, not just an easement that's alleged because of decades of public use. Once an easement has been recorded against a parcel of private property, then that property owner can't unilaterally rescind it. Property lawyers will tell you that the easement specifies in writing who gets to benefit from the easement (or what gets to benefit -- this may be defined in terms of other properties, not in terms of people), but a paved path in your neighborhood that links two streets certainly looks like an invitation to the public to use it. And usually, members of the public are on safe legal ground if they accept that invitation.
Bottom line: Be neighborly, because it's the right thing to do. But sometimes the law favors the neighbor, not the property owner!
Labels: this again?, watch what you say