What to Do About Subdivision Roads—The Orphan Road Conundrum

David Wilson

For many homeowners associations roads can be a source of constant consternation. Most homeowners do not make their home-buying decision based on the condition of the roads in the community or on the responsibility of the community to maintain subdivision roads. Where the community is responsible for the roads, it can be one of the largest budget expenses, often taking years of planning and saving to tackle. Even then, it may require special assessments or other methods to raise the funds to handle.

When developers or HOA boards are not diligent in getting responsibility for roads turned over to the state or local government the result is what has been coined an “orphan road.” An orphan road is a road that nobody wants, or at least a road that nobody wants to be responsible for. The problem has been especially prevalent for planned communities created during the recent housing downturn where a developer may have gone bankrupt and the roads were not turned over for whatever reason.

In North Carolina, responsibility for subdivision roads has become such a headache in recent years that the legislature commissioned a study of the problem and several bills are currently being considered to remedy the problem. Unfortunately, the current bills would be prospective only—meaning that those communities already in the midst of a road problem will not have legislative help any time soon (or perhaps ever). In South Carolina, the state does not accept subdivision roads so communities must look to their local governments (usually the County), and not all local governments will accept subdivision roads.

For now, the burden tends to fall on the individual homeowners unless the community can get the developer, local government, or state government to intervene. It can be a bitter pill to swallow to find out that a new dream home comes with the need for an exorbitant special assessment to get the roads up to standard. Some Counties offer tax programs to help build roads and owners commit themselves to higher taxes for a period of years to pay for the needed improvements.

If your homeowners association has questions about your community roads, we are glad to assist. We have represented numbers of communities with these types of problems and have worked closely with developers and state and local governments to find solutions that work for everyone.