Homeowners in Jenkintown do not own any part of the public right of way

MontCo to Jenkintown: Sidewalks are public property

Sorry, Rick. We don’t own it.

On our Facebook page, Jenkintown Borough Councilor Rick Bunker wrote the following in response to a recent post about the extent of the public right of way:

You seem to be confusing ownership of the land, and the public right of way.

You own it.

But the public has the right to traverse it. And the utilities have some rights, too. They can even trim back trees away from power lines, etc. PennDOT can put up signs or traffic controls.

But you still own it. You can decide what to plant on it. You can have a picnic there without getting permission from anyone. You can ask people to leave it, and except for the provisions of the right of way allowing them access to the sidewalk for walking through, if they refuse they are trespassing and you can call the cops on them. Subject to zoning you can build stuff on it, rent it out, bury dead goldfish in it. It is yours. If someone is hurt there you get sued. You can pass ownership on to your heirs.

Just received a call from a very nice person at the Montgomery County Recorder of Deeds in response to a letter we sent last week. We have been trying to establish who owns what, and according to this official, the public right of way is indeed public property — just like the roads, the parks, and Borough Hall. 

In other words, we don’t own it.

The County’s Tax Maps, which basically show the land we purchased and for which we pay taxes, are sufficient to indicate ownership. As we have previously wrote, these maps indicate a forty foot right-of-way, which encompasses the road, curbs, sidewalks, and another three feet of my front yard.

property markings
The green lines were added for clarity.  Click to see full size.

You can look up these maps online here. Just enter your address, and see for yourself. The actual printed maps are available at the County Assessors office.

Despite the assertions of Councilor Rick Bunker, this means that our ordinance does indeed force individual homeowners to directly pay for repairs to public property. In our discussions with residents of Jenkintown and other boroughs, people registered all manner of confusion about this issue. Some did indeed believe that they owned the sidewalks — that they lie within their property boundaries.

This also means that we have an ordinance that can be revoked by a simple majority vote of the Council.

Incidentally, the County official also asked us if we were Reds or Blues.