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Virginia Easement Law: Where Simple and Complex Intersect

No one enjoys finding themselves involved in a land dispute. Whether siblings are arguing over real estate due to a lack of estate planning or a property owner is trying to stop eminent domain, the legal intricacies are stressful and demanding. Easement disputes are particularly challenging — because each party may have a legitimate claim. That’s why it’s critical to understand a few things about easement disputes in Warrenton, VA.

When looking at our state’s laws, such disputes may seem straightforward. The Code of Virginia, Title 55.1 states that easement users cannot engage in activities not contemplated when the easement was granted. Similarly, the owner of the easement property cannot interfere with proper use. However, this seeming simplicity is often not indicative of reality. Easement disputes are common, so make sure you know your rights and potential resolutions.

The Rights of the Servient Estate

The land where an easement is located is known as the “burdened land.” You will also hear it referred to as the “servient estate.” If you’re a landowner who has a portion of their property designated as an easement for another individual or entity, understanding your rights can help you secure a favorable outcome in any easement disputes in Warrenton, VA.

Such rights include:

  • Using the property for its intended purpose — so long as it doesn’t interfere with granted easement rights
  • Restricting or limiting the use of the easement area as long as these restrictions don’t interfere with the easement’s intended use
  • Maintaining and repairing the property — so long as doing so doesn’t unreasonably interfere with the rights granted to the dominant property owner
  • Receiving compensation for any damages to their property caused by the exercise of easement rights by the dominant property owner
  • Enforcing any terms and conditions contained within the easement agreement — including seeking legal remedies when violations occur

It’s clear why servient property owners have so many rights. After all, it’s their land that the easement exists on. However, this doesn’t mean they have absolute rights over the area. And while Virginia law may seem clear, easement disputes still arise which can be complicated and require legal intervention.

It’s typically ideal to seek legal counsel during any easement dispute in Warrenton, VA. And even if you’ve secured legal counsel, it’s still advisable for those involved in these disputes to understand the rights of all parties involved.

The Rights of the Dominant Estate

The dominant estate is the property that benefits from the use of the easement. Virginia easement law recognizes that the owner of the servient property is being burdened by the dominant property. That’s why these landowners have extensive rights. However, dominant property owners also have a multitude of rights.

These include:

  • Use of the easement as outlined in the easement agreement (e.g., access, utilities, etc.)
  • Entering and exiting the servient property as necessary to exercise their rights
  • Maintain and repair the easement area so that it remains usable for its intended purpose (e.g., clearing vegetation, repairing pathways)
  • Depending on the terms of the agreement, the dominant estate owner may be able to modify or expand the easement
  • If specified, the right to exclude others from using the easement area
  • In many cases, the right to transfer or convey easement rights to others
  • Take legal action in order to enforce the terms of the easement agreement

Seek compensation for interference by the servient estate owner
These rights may seem more extensive than those granted to the servient estate owner. However, this isn’t really the case. No party truly has more rights than the other; they simply have different rights. Additionally, keep in mind that some of these rights only exist when they’re specifically mentioned within the easement agreement.

Unfortunately, misunderstandings related to these rights frequently lead to easement disputes in Warrenton, VA. When this happens, understanding potential resolutions to the problem is critical.

Possible Resolutions to Warrenton, VA Easement Disputes

When disputes over easements arise, it’s important to keep things in perspective. In many cases, it’s possible to rectify these issues without long and complicated legal battles. While it’s still important to work with a legal professional when dealing with disputes, your attorney may be able to help you settle things in a simple manner.

This can save you money, preserve neighborly relationships, build trust, and avoid potential community discord. The appropriateness of the following resolutions to Warrenton, VA easement disputes will vary based on the unique circumstances of your situation — but one of these approaches will likely work for you:

  • Negotiations and mediation: The property owners involved may be able to resolve their differences via informal negotiations or mediation.
  • Amendment of agreement: When both parties are able to agree on issues, they can amend the easement agreement to address the issues or concerns causing their dispute.
  • Arbitration: The alternative dispute resolution method of arbitration is more formal than mediation. It’s a bit like going to court without the courtroom — and you can still have legal representation.

Litigation: When compromise, mediation, and arbitration are simply not enough, either party can file a lawsuit in Virginia courts. Having legal representation in these situations is critical.
Land disputes are among the most complicated legal problems that people face. Unfortunately, this is particularly true when such disputes involve easements. Unlike other issues that arise in the legal world, both parties have extensive rights when it comes to easement disputes in Warrenton, VA. This is why understanding your rights is critical to protect your best interests.

Don’t risk your property or potential financial loss. At Ashwell & Ashwell, our team of experienced legal professionals is here to help. Contact us at 540-991-9100 today to schedule your confidential consultation.

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