Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court, reinstated the determination of the Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA), and entered final judgment for the Board of Supervisors of Fairfax County, holding that the circuit court erred when it held that Va. Code 15.2-2307(D) creates a vested right to an originally illegal use of a building or structure after the owner has paid taxes to the locality for that building or structure for fifteen years or more. Defendants owned real property located in McLean, Virginia. The Fairfax County Zoning Administrator issued a notice of violation (NOV) to Defendants regarding the property because a detached garage and garden house locate on the property had been converted to dwelling, resulting in three complete and separate dwellings on the property. Defendants appealed the NOV to the BZA, arguing that the garage and garden house were grandfathered. The BZA concluded that Defendants were in violation of the relevant ordinance. The circuit court reversed, holding that the nonconforming structures were protected under section 15.2-2307(D)(iii). The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court erred in holding that 15.2-2307(D) protected Defendants’ illegal use of their garden house and garage. View "Board of Supervisors of Fairfax County v. Cohn" on Justia Law

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At issue in this boundary dispute was whether a property line ran to the center of a road where the deed described the property as being bounded by that road and included the property’s square footage, as well as a reference to the subdivision plat. Landowner owned Parcel E, which was located in a property owners’ association (Association). The dispute concerned whether Landowner owned the portion of Hibiscus Drive, a road forming the northeast boundary of Parcel E, between the road’s edge and its center. The circuit court that Parcel E extended only to the edge of Hibiscus Drive and entered judgment for the Association. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because nothing in the deed expressed a contrary intent, Parcel E ran to the center of Hibiscus Drive by operation of the rule of construction. View "Ettinger v. Oyster Bay II Community Property Owners’ Ass’n" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the circuit court did not err when it found that an automobile graveyard was a lawful nonconforming use because the use began prior to the enactment of the county’s zoning ordinances and had not been discontinued. The Acting Zoning Administrator of Price William County determined that the use of one parcel as an automobile graveyard was not a lawful nonconforming use. The Prince William County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) upheld the Administrator’s denial of the non-conforming use verification for the parcel. The circuit court reversed the BZA’s decision, finding that the use of the parcel as an automobile salvage business operation predated the zoning ordinances of Prince William County and that the pre-existing lawful nonconforming use was never abandoned or discontinued. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the lawful nonconforming use of the parcel as an automobile graveyard was not terminated by discontinuance of the use. View "Prince William Board of County Supervisors v. Archie" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated in part and reversed in part the decision of the circuit court reducing the amount due on a deed of trust note (note) and entering a confessed judgment for the reduced amount without the agreement of Catjen, LLC. Hunter Mill West, L.C. (HMW) executed the note payable to the predecessor in interest to Catjen. HMW failed to repay the note in full by the date of maturity and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Catjen’s predecessor filed a claim for the amount it asserted was due on the note. The bankruptcy court sustained HMW’s objections to the claims and accepted HMW’s calculations. Catjen subsequently foreclosed on the property that was used as collateral for the note. The attorney in fact then confessed judgment against HMW in favor of Catjen. Citing Va. Code 8.01-433, HMW moved to set aside the confessed judgment. The trial court modified the confessed judgment, awarding Catjen the amount based on HMW’s calculations despite Catjen not agreeing to the amount due. The trial court denied the motion. The Supreme Court vacated the confessed judgment and reversed the trial court’s judgment on the amount due, holding that the trial court erred by failing to place this case on the docket for a trial on the merits. View "Catjen, LLC v. Hunter Mill West, L.C." on Justia Law

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A majority of the Supreme Court held (1) Va. Code 56-49.01(A) allows a natural gas company to gain access to private property for the purpose of conducting surveys and other activities that are only necessary for the selection of the most advantageous route; and (2) the trial court did not misapply section 56-49.01 in this case. Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (ACP), which was engaged in the regulatory approval process to build a natural gas pipeline, sought permission to enter Landowners’ properties to conduct preliminary surveys and other activities. Landowners withheld their consent. ACP filed the instant second amended petition for declaratory judgment seeking an order affirming ACP’s authority to enter Landowners’ properties for the purposes defined in section 56-49.01. The trial court granted ACP permission to enter the properties to conduct the necessary activities. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial court did not err in its construction of section 56-49.01(A); and (2) the trial court’s application of section 56-49.01 was not improper. View "Barr v. Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s final judgment against a Lessee and its guarantor in this action brought by the Lessor seeking unpaid rent under a fifteen-year lease after the Lessee vacated the leasehold prior to the expiration of the fifteen-year term. After this action was filed, the Lessee demurred, arguing that the lease was unenforceable under the Statute of Conveyances because it did not contain a seal as required by the common law for a deed or one of the substitutes for a seal available under Va. Code 11-3. The trial court overruled the demurrer and entered judgment against the Lessee. The Supreme Court reversed and entered final judgment in favor of the Lessee and its guarantor, holding that the fifteen-year lease was unenforceable as a matter of law because the lease violated the Statute of Conveyances and the common-law seal requirement. View "The Game Place, LLC v. Fredericksburg 35, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the final judgment of the trial court in this eminent domain case granting $167,866 in damages to the landowner, holding that the trial court erred in disallowing the expert witness for the Commissioner of Highways from testifying. The Commissioner initiated this condemnation proceeding to acquire a strip of commercial property to create a multi-use trial. At trial to determine just compensation, the trial court allowed the landowner’s expert witness to testify that the take caused $193,270 in damages to the remainder but disallowed the Commissioner’s expert witness from testifying that the take caused $0 in damages to the remainder. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for retrial, holding that the trial court erred by excluding the Commissioner’s expert witness testimony. View "Commissioner of Highways v. Karverly, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this dispute over contractual provision in a real estate purchase agreement (agreement) allocating future development rights for properties located near a new Metro rail station, the circuit court did not err in dismissing RECP IV WG Land Investors LLC’s (WG Land) suit against Capital One Bank (USA), N.A. (Capital One). WG Land, an assignee of certain rights of the seller under the agreement, sued Capital One, the assignee of the purchaser, alleging that Capital One breached the agreement and certain related covenants by developing the property acquired under the agreement without conveying a portion of floor area ratio rights to WG Land. The circuit court ultimately all three counts in the complaint and awarded attorney’s fees and costs to Capital One. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err in sustaining Capital One’s demurrer as to Count I, sustaining Capital One’s plea in bar and granting its motion for summary judgment as to Counts II and III, and awarding attorney’s fees and costs to Capital One. View "RECP IV WG Land Investors LLC v. Capital One Bank" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court sustaining the Tax Department’s decision to rescind $4.9 million in land preservation tax credits it had previously awarded to the Woolford family on the grounds that the Woolfords’ appraiser was not a “qualified appraiser.” Specifically, the circuit court found that the Woolfords’ appraiser lacked the necessary education and experience, as required by applicable federal law incorporated by Va. Code 58.1-512(B), to offer a qualified appraisal. The Supreme Court disagreed and remanded the case, holding (1) the trial court erred in ruling that the Woolfords’ appraiser was not a “qualified appraiser”; and (2) the Department was not constrained from auditing the value of the tax credits claimed by the Woolfords after initially awarding them those tax credits. View "Woolford v. Virginia Department of Taxation" on Justia Law

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The circuit court erred in relying on principles of res judicata to refuse to stay an injunction brought by the City of Staunton’s Zoning Administrator against the landowner in this case pending further proceedings before the City’s Board of Zoning Appeals and erred in granting the injunction against the landowner. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court as to the stay and the injunctive relief sought, holding (1) the doctrine of res judicata that the circuit court relied on was not a proper basis to deny the stay based on prior administrative or circuit court proceedings; and (2) as a result, the final order granting an injunction, when the landowner had not been given the opportunity to exhaust her administrative remedies, was in error. View "Chilton-Belloni v. Angle" on Justia Law