Private Roads | Acquisition of Private Property


There are a great number of private roads throughout Ventura County. Consequently, Public Works Agency staff often has to respond to questions about the rights and obligations of property owners served by such roads. For all questions of importance, the inquiring party should seek legal advice, because an accurate answer is dependent upon the particular facts and circumstances. However, general principles can provide some.

Provided below, in question-and-answer format, are general responses to frequently asked questions.

Private road easements may be created in a number of ways; however, the most common are express grant, express reservation, express exception, and by reference. The first three are usually created by document and the last by recorded map. There are other ways easements may be created but a determination as to whether they exist or not is dependent on facts not readily available in the public records. These would include easements created by prescription, by necessity, and by implication.

One of the best sources for such information are the public records available through the Ventura County Recorder’s Office. These may be accessed directly by members of the public through microfiche and by computer terminals located in the Recorder’s Office. Easement information is contained in individual deeds and in subdivision maps, both of which are recorded documents. A copy of your title insurance policy should show all recorded easements affecting or appurtenant to your property. If you know the Assessor’s Parcel Number for your property, or the lot/parcel number in a subdivision or parcel map, you may contact the County Surveyor’s Map Room at (805) 654-2068 to confirm that there is a map on file showing your property and the road easement serving it.

Section 845 of the California Civil Code provides in part that the owner of an easement is responsible for maintaining it. If the easement is owned by more than one person, or attached to parcels of land under different ownership, the cost of maintaining it shall be shared in accordance with any agreement between the owners or, if there is no agreement, proportionately to the use made of the easement by each owner. A maintenance obligation may be enforced through civil action.

Absent an agreement to do so, users of a private road easement may not be required to participate in the cost of improving the private road except for the costs associated with maintaining it in good repair. If you would like to improve a private road easement serving your property, you should consider entering into a written cost sharing agreement with other users.

The easement may, or may not, allow the installation of utilities. A careful reading of the easement language is required. If it is not clearly stated that the easement is also for utilities, you should consult your attorney for review and advice.

It may if the private road easement is nonexclusive and the public utility or cable television company has been granted an easement which is coterminous with or within the private road easement. Subdividers often create public utility easements within mapped roadways that they convey to utility companies by separate document. If a public utility easement has not been created, the public utility or cable television company must seek an easement from the owners of the properties involved.

If your neighbor is the fee owner of the area encumbered by the easement he may use it in any manner that does not unreasonably interfere with the purpose of the easement. However, he does not have the right to unreasonably interfere with the exercise of your easement rights.

This is a civil matter between two private parties. Therefore, you should discuss the matter with your neighbor and try to resolve it amicably. If you cannot resolve the matter you may consider seeking legal counsel to initiate an action for enforcement of the easement. The County staff has no standing in such matters to assist either party.

In order to be considered for acceptance into the County road system, a road must be deemed to be required for the general public convenience and meet County road design and construction standards. A road of purely local interest would not qualify. More detailed information may be obtained from the Public Works Agency, Transportation Department, at (805) 654-2080.


This list was prepared by the Public Works Agency, County of Ventura, to inform citizens of how and why county government acquires property and of the owner’s right to just compensation if property is needed for public use. It reflects the Federal Government’s policies as expressed in Title III of the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970 (Public Law 91-646) and the State of California’s policies as expressed in the California Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Guidelines (California Code of Regulations, Title 25, Chapter 6, Subchapter 1). This brochure is designed to answer the most frequently asked questions regarding a public agency’s acquisition of private property. It will give you an idea of the processes and policies utilized when property must be acquired for the County of Ventura or any other entity governed by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors.

Every government has certain inherent powers that are essential to its existence and effective operation, such as the power to levy taxes and the power to maintain order. Another power is the right to acquire private property for public use, known as the power of eminent domain. However, the rights of the individual are protected by our Constitution, which guarantees that private property may not be taken by the government except for public use and that just compensation must be paid for the property taken.

No public project or improvement is undertaken without an authorization and appropriation by the Board of Supervisors. Therefore, the final determination as to what public projects are necessary is made by the elected representatives of the people of Ventura County.

Proposed projects are submitted to the Board of Supervisors by directors of County agencies who believe that the projects are necessary and benefit the public. Sometimes a project may be introduced at the request of a Federal or State agency which has decided, after careful study and preliminary planning, that a certain public project will promote the general welfare of our country. Sometimes the proposed projects are originated by citizen’s committees and presented to County agencies for consideration and recommendation to the Board of Supervisors. The County agency responsible for the project will usually present the results of detailed studies it has made at a public meeting. The Board of Supervisors must approve all projects which require acquisition of private property for public use and may require exercise of the power of eminent domain.

The Board of Supervisors approves all projects for which land is required. It approves the extent of the project in general terms and relies on the expertise of County staff to set the precise location and boundaries of the project and land to be acquired.

The location of some projects, such as a road widening or flood control channel improvement, is governed by the location of existing facilities. In such projects engineering and economic considerations are the primary factors influencing precise project boundaries and the determination as to a particular land that will be acquired. Other projects, such as a fire station or a county office building, allow more flexibility in site location and will usually be approved by the Board of Supervisors based on public input and County staff recommendations.

Whether the County purchases your property or acquires it using its power of eminent domain, you will be paid fair market value. Fair market value means the price that you could reasonably expect to receive if you sold your property on the open market in a sale between a willing seller and a willing buyer, neither being under any compulsion to act. It does not mean some special value that your property may have to you or the value that it may have to the County for the purposes of the particular public project for which it is needed. In addition to paying the fair market value for your property, the County will pay certain expenses normally incurred in the transfer of title to the County.

The County of Ventura employs State certified independent appraisers and/or appraisal firms who are familiar with property values. After a thorough examination of valuation factors and a study of market conditions, they prepare appraisals giving their professional opinion of the fair market value of your property on the date it is to be acquired by the County. You or your designated representative will be given an opportunity to accompany the appraiser during his inspection. When the appraisers examine your property, you should assist them by answering any questions that they may have and also by pointing out any special features which you feel may add to the value of the property.

If the acquisition of a part of your property leaves the remainder less valuable than it was before, you will be paid for that loss. In other words you will be paid fair market value for the property acquired by the County and, in addition, you will receive the amount by which your remaining property has been decreased in market value. This is known as “severance”. If it is determined that the acquisition of only part of your property would leave you with an uneconomic remnant, the County will offer to acquire your entire property. If the public project will increase the value of your remaining property, this benefit will be offset against any severance that might result from the public project.

A County Real Property Agent will call upon you to see if you can agree on the terms of a sale. He or she will be familiar with the appraisal of your property and will be prepared to discuss its value in detail. You will be furnished with a written statement of the fair market value of your property and a summary of the basis for just compensation. The Real Property Agent will then make an offer to acquire the property for the full amount of the approved appraisal. The agent will also answer any questions that you may have about the purchase of your property to their best knowledge. If you and the County Real Property Agent are able to reach agreement, it will be reduced to writing and, upon approval by appropriate authority, will become a binding agreement. Compensation will be paid to you in accordance with the agreement.

No. You are entitled to present your evidence as to the amount you believe is the value of your property and to make suggestions for changing the terms and conditions of the offer. The public agency must make reasonable efforts to consider and respond to your evidence and suggestions. If the available evidence justifies your value suggestions, then an adjustment will be made in the offer price.

This depends upon the particular project and the circumstances of each case. The County of Ventura tries to consider your needs, and usually a mutually satisfactory arrangement for transfer of possession can be worked out with the Real Property Agent representing the acquiring agency. You are not obligated to surrender possession of your property until you have been paid the agreed upon purchase price. Furthermore, you will not be required to move from your dwelling, or to move your business or farm operation without at least 90 days notice in writing of the date by which your move is required, except in those unusual instances when there is an urgent need for your property.

Usually the buildings and improvements will not be required for the project and in such a case you may retain them, if you wish. Of course, you will be required to move them to a location outside of the project area by a specified date, and the salvage value of the improvements will be deducted from the purchase price or condemnation award which you receive.

Whenever possible, the acquisition of property by the County is scheduled in order to allow for the harvesting by the property owner of growing crops. However, sometimes the property is needed before crops are ready to harvest and in that case, you will receive payment for your crops. You should discuss this with the Real Property Agent who contacts you.

The County of Ventura will pay you as soon as possible after you and the Real Property Agent have reached an agreement as to price and it has been approved by the County agency that is in charge of the project. Of course, payment is subject to the County obtaining clear title to the property or the County’s approval as to the condition of title. If the title examination discloses that further proof is necessary to show that you have a clear title to the property, you can expedite the payment of the funds by assisting the County’s Real Property Agent in obtaining such proof.

Responsibility for the administration of Federal tax law rest with the Internal Revenue Service, which is part of the Treasury Department. These laws contain provisions with respect to gains derived from the sale of real property, including sales made to the County of Ventura. Questions concerning the application of Federal tax laws should be taken up with your accountant, attorney, or with the Director of Internal Revenue in your district. All these people are available to answer any questions you may have.

Where an agreement cannot be reached, it will be necessary for the County of Ventura to initiate eminent domain proceedings to acquire your property by filing a suit in Superior Court. This is commonly known as a condemnation case.

California’s Eminent Domain Law (Part 3, Title 7 of the Code of Civil Procedure) requires that property owners be provided an opportunity to appear before the Ventura County Board of Supervisors to present their views on issues such as whether public interest and necessity require the proposed project, whether the project is planned and located in the manner that will be most compatible with the greatest public good and the least private injury, and whether the property sought to be acquired is necessary for the project. Each person whose property is to be acquired by eminent domain, whose name and address appear on the last tax assessment roll, will be notified by first class mail and given a reasonable opportunity to appear before the Board and be heard before a condemnation case is filed.

You will be served with legal documents. Although it is not required, you may wish to be represented by an attorney because he/she can advise you of your rights, prepare a responsive pleading, which must be filed with the court within thirty days after you have been served, and represent you in the condemnation trial which will be held in Superior Court.

The landowner and the County of Ventura both are permitted to introduce evidence as to the fair market value of the property. The court, after considering the evidence, will determine the amount of compensation to be paid. The decision may be made by the judge, or by a jury, if either party asks for one. As a property owner, you may testify as to your opinion of the property’s fair market value, and you may bring with you others who are qualified under Superior Court rules to express an opinion on market value.

The County of Ventura usually will ask the court for an order fixing a date upon which the possession of the property is required and on which the property owner and/or tenants must vacate the property. You will not be required to surrender possession of your property until the County of Ventura deposits with the court for your benefit an amount not less than the approved appraisal of the property. Except in unusual instances when possession of your property is urgently needed, you will not be required to move from your dwelling, or to move your business or farm operation without a 90 day notice in writing of the date by which your move is required.

When a condemnation case is filed by the County of Ventura and an Order for Possession is obtained, money will be deposited with the court to pay for your property. You must submit proof of ownership and show what mortgages, liens or other encumbrances are against the property. The court will then allow you to withdraw your share of the deposit.

However, any disputes over property interests or title will have to be settled by the court. After a trial, the court will enter a judgment fixing the amount of just compensation. The County of Ventura will pay the award as soon as possible. If the final award is more than the amount of money that you have withdrawn, you will receive a judgment against the County for the difference, together with interest. Of course, if the final award is less than the amount of money you have withdrawn, you will be required to refund the difference.

Detailed information concerning the project for which your property is to be acquired will be made available by the Real Property Agent responsible for the acquisition of your land. You should not hesitate to seek information from the Real Property Agent, who will be glad to assist you and to answer questions.

For More Information:

To help answer additional questions that you may have, call the Agency representative that has made contact with you at the number below:

County of Ventura

Real Estate Services Division

(805) 654-2018

Yes. However, prior to accepting any donation of property, the public agency must inform the owner in writing of the amount that it believes to be just compensation for the property. The property owner must indicate in writing that, although he understands that he cannot be required to sell his property for less than just compensation, he voluntarily agrees to do so.

Either the property owner or the County of Ventura can appeal an award in a condemnation case. The appeal will be heard by the California Appellate Court for the District in which the property is located. However, this is not a new trial, but a review by the appellate court to determine if there were any errors in the proceedings in the trial court.