Why You Don’t Own Your Front Yard

Most Minneapolis home owners are shocked to learn they don’t own all of their front yard.  People assume that the public sidewalk abuts the residential property line.  That’s a logical assumption and one that holds true in St. Paul.  So why isn’t it true in Minneapolis? 

As each neighborhood of Minneapolis was first built, developers dedicated part of their land for public right-of-ways by recording a deed or a plat map.  The location and size of those public easements were dictated by the city planners.  Early street right-of-ways were required to be 60 feet wide in residential areas.  Today, the typical width is 66 feet and the area is usually laid out like this:

For some reason, Minneapolis sidewalks have not been placed along the residential property lines.  Instead, the sidewalk edge closest to the house is usually 2-3 feet away from the property line.  This 2-3 foot wide strip looks like the rest of the privately-owned front yard, but it’s subject to a public easement.  And there are some areas where that public strip is 8-13 feet wide!

I couldn’t find a written explanation about why Minneapolis set the sidewalk away from the property line.  But here are some theories, based upon who might have made the decision.

If a city engineer made the decision, it would have been based on cost efficiencies.  When the “extra” strip is placed next to the property line, the right-of-way construction path is narrower and therefore, cheaper.  A narrower swath requires less grading and fill, and affects fewer trees, fences and retaining walls.

If a city attorney made the decision, real estate law was the decisive factor. Because municipal workers would eventually need to repair the sidewalk, the attorney’s advice was to keep some public property on both sides.  Otherwise, workers would have to obtain permission to trespass from each adjacent owner whenever they needed to work in that area.

If politicians made the decision, it would have been aimed at currying political favor from voters.  The elected officials could have claimed they gave home owners a larger front yard for free (even though a public easement was on part of it).

 

It’s also possible that traditional construction plans dictated the design simply because no one revised them when circumstances changed.  The pavement, boulevard and sidewalk fully used the original 60 foot wide street right-of-way.  When a 66 foot width later became the new standard, the older and narrower layout may have continued by default, leaving the “extra” 3 foot wide strip next to the property line.

Regardless of why this occurred, take note.  If you are a Minneapolis homeowner, city workers will mow the grass between the sidewalk and your lot line since it’s public land.  Nah, just kidding.  There has long been a municipal ordinance requiring the adjacent property owner to maintain the area between the property line and the curb.

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