Virginia Easement Dispute Attorneys
An easement is the right to use an area of land belonging to another property owner. While easements are relatively common in Virginia, difficulties may arise when property owners or users of easements fail to follow the terms of their easement agreement.
Easements are commonly used as means of “ingress and egress,” such as driveways and pathways to enter or exit properties. Additionally, utility easements are very prevalent, giving certain utility companies (water, gas, and the like) permission to run pipes or wires under, over, or through your property.
There are other less-recognized easements, such as the right to light. A “solar easement” gives you the right to maintain a minimum quality of light in your home. Therefore, someone cannot build a structure next to you that significantly blocks the light coming into your home. Additionally, a “view easement” provides that your neighbor cannot erect a structure or grow trees or other vegetation that blocks your existing view.
Easements are generally created when a property owner sells an easement to another property owner. For example, a nearby construction project may buy the right to use your path or driveway, install pipes or irrigation under your land, or even purchase a solar easement to maintain their view and sunlight.
An easement may also exist even without any written record. The law grants individuals a right of access to their homes, and a legal easement may be created, for example, if it is absolutely necessary to cross another’s land for a legitimate purpose. So, if the only access to a piece of land is by crossing through your property, the law may recognize the granting of an “easement by necessity” over your land.
Even when a document purporting to be an easement has been signed and recorded, there still may be confusion as to its precise meaning, including whether it remains in effect. There may also be questions or disputes regarding whether the easement has expired or been extinguished or whether it “runs with the land.” In addition, if a valid easement exists, there are often questions of who owns the easement, what the scope of the easement permits, and whether parties are overburdening the lawful scope of the easement.
Finally, some easements are created without any recorded document but merely by repetitive use. Virginia law recognizes that individuals can acquire an easement over another’s land for a particular purpose by using that land openly and continuously for a set period of time. These “prescriptive easements” are typically created when someone uses another’s land for access such as a driveway, beach path, or short cut. Unless all parties agree that such a prescriptive easement exists, it may be necessary to have the easement established by a court.
Before buying a home or land, whether for residential or investment purchasers, buyers should contact an experienced local real estate attorney to investigate whether the property is burdened by any applicable restrictions or easements. If a valid easement exists, you are not permitted to interfere with the purpose of that easement. If you do so, you may end up being liable to the easement owner for damages.
If you are concerned that someone may be violating your easement rights or if there is a dispute as to the precise aspects of a purported easement, contact John B. Simpson, a Charlottesville easement dispute lawyer at MartinWren, P.C., at (434) 817-3100.