Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court approving modifications to an easement by necessity crossing Joanna Palmer’s property. The circuit court approved the modifications after finding that they were reasonably necessary for the beneficial use of property owned by R. A. Yancey Lumber Corporation (Yancey). On appeal, Palmer argued that the circuit court erroneously granted Yancey the right to modify its easement by necessity because the modifications will unlawfully increase the width of an established easement by necessity. Alternatively, Palmer argued that the court erred by granting Yancey the right to modify the easement in order to use tractor-trailers extending over a road because this will unreasonably increase the burden on the Palmer property. The Supreme Court held (1) under the “reasonable necessity rule,” the width of an existing easement by necessity may be expanded without the consent of the servient landowner, but modifications to such easements must not create unreasonable burdens on the servient estate; and (2) the circuit court’s grant to Yancey the right to make modifications to widen its easement by necessity for use by tractor-trailers was neither plainly wrong, nor without evidence to support it. View "Palmer v. R. A. Yancey Lumber Corp." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court in denying Seller specific performance of a contract for the sale of real property after finding that Seller failed to establish that he held marketable title. The Supreme Court held (1) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion by denying Seller’s motion in limine and admitting a substitute trustee’s deed, which rebutted Seller’s evidence that any dispute over ownership of the property had been resolved; (2) the circuit court did not err by granting Buyer’s motion to strike the evidence; and (3) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion by awarding Buyer attorney’s fees. View "Denton v. Browntown Valley Associates" on Justia Law

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The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (ACP) sought permission to enter Hazel Palmer’s property to conduct preliminary surveys in order to build a natural gas transmission line. When Palmer withheld her consent, ACP provided a notice of intent to enter her property pursuant to Va. Code 56-49.01. Palmer continued to deny permission, and ACP filed a petition for a declaratory judgment requesting a declaration of its rights under section 56-49.01. Palmer filed a plea in bar and a demurrer, arguing that section 56-49.01 applies only to domestic public service companies and is unconstitutional under Va. Const. art. I, 11 because it impermissibly burdens a fundamental right. The circuit court overruled Palmer’s plea in bar and demurrer. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) section 56-49.01 establishes the General Assembly’s intent that the entry-for-survey privilege be available to foreign natural gas companies that do business within the Commonwealth; and (2) Palmer’s fundamental property rights do not include the right to exclude ACP in this case. View "Palmer v. Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (ACP) sent Landowners letters seeking permission to enter their properties to conduct preliminary surveys and studies in order to build a natural gas transmission line. When Landowners withheld their permission, ACP provided notices of intent to enter their properties pursuant to Va. Code 56-49.01. ACP then filed petitions for declaratory judgment against Landowners seeking an order declaring that the notices of intent to enter provided ACP with a right to enter Landowners’ properties. The circuit court issued a final order concluding that ACP was entitled to enter landowners’ properties pursuant to section 56-49.01. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding that ACP’s notices were deficient because they did not “set forth the date of the intended entry” as required by section 56-49.01(C). View "Chaffins v. Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC" on Justia Law

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Two property insurers issued policies to a Harris Teeter grocery store. The insurers together paid claims for property damage resulting from the malfunctioning of a county sewer line. Exercising their subrogation rights, the insurers sued Arlington County alleging an inverse condemnation claim under Va. Const. art. I, section 11. The circuit court dismissed the case with prejudice. The Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings, holding (1) the circuit court did not err in concluding that the original complaint failed to state a viable legal claim for inverse condemnation; but (2) the court erred in denying the insurers leave to amend their complaint because the allegations in the proffered amended complaint, combined with the reasonable inferences arising from them, asserted a legally viable claim for inverse condemnation. Remanded. View "AGCS Marine Insurance Co. v. Arlington County" on Justia Law

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A declaration of protective covenants and restrictions (Declaration) for a Subdivision created a Committee, an unincorporated association, to have full authority to enforce the Declaration. In 2014, an amendment of the Declaration was recorded in the name of the lot owners and the Subdivision’s home owners association (Association) asserting that the Declaration could be amended by two-thirds of the lot owners. The amendment was signed by all the lot owners except Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs filed a complaint asserting that the Declaration could be amended only with the unanimous consent of all the lot owners. Thereafter, another amendment was signed by all the lot owners except Plaintiffs asserting that the Association was created by the Declaration. Plaintiffs amended their complaint to seek a declaratory judgment that both amendments were invalid. The circuit court ruled in favor of Plaintiffs. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that the circuit court (1) erred in ruling that the Declaration did not create a property owners’ association within the meaning of the Virginia Property Owners’ Association Act; (2) erred in ruling that the amendments may not be adopted by a two-thirds majority vote; and (3) did not err in finding that the Association was not a property owners’ association within the meaning of the Act. View "Shepherd v. Conde" on Justia Law

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Martha Lambert filed a warrant in debt asserting that the Sea Oats Condominium Association failed to pay $500 to repair an exterior door to her condominium. Lambert sought $500 in damages and an award of attorney’s fees. The general district court entered judgment for the Association. The circuit court awarded judgment to Lambert. The court then entered a corrected final order awarding Lambert $500 in damages and $375 in attorney’s fees. Lambert appealed, arguing that the circuit court erred by awarding her only $375 in attorney’s fees. The Association asserted that the circuit court erred by awarding Lambert attorney’s fees at all. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the circuit court abused its discretion by failing to consider relevant factors in its attorney’s fees award that should have been given significant weight; and (2) a party seeking an award of attorney’s fees need not prove the reasonableness of the award in its prima facie case. Remanded. View "Lambert v. Sea Oats Condominium Ass'n" on Justia Law

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The predecessor in title to Mount Aldie, LLC (MA) conveyed a conservation easement to Land Trust of Virginia, Inc. (LTV) covering a sixty-acre tract of land. The easement designated a 100-foot-wide strip of property running along the edge of the Little River, as “riparian buffer” (the buffer). After acquiring the property and conducting certain commercial forest operations, MA performed tree removal and grading work within the buffer. LTV later filed this action seeking an injunction to require MA to return certain property to the condition that it was in prior to the work MA performed within the buffer on grounds that MA breached the easement. The trial court granted LTV’s motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of liability, finding that MA breached a provision of the easement. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that genuine issues of disputed material fact existed over whether MA breached the easement, thereby precluding an award of partial summary judgment to LTV. Remanded. View "Mount Aldie, LLC v. Land Trust of Virginia, Inc." on Justia Law

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Ravi Prasad purchased a lot at a tax sale. Shorty thereafter, Appellee mistakenly began renovating a house on a nearby lot owned by William and Elnora Washington, spending more than $23,500 on the renovations. When the Washingtons refused to pay Appellee for the work he procured for their house, Prasad filed a complaint asking the circuit court to impose a constructive trust on the Washingtons’ lot. Specifically, Prasad alleged that the Washingtons had been unjustly enriched as a result of fraud perpetrated by them through misrepresenting the address of the house. The circuit court entered a decision in favor of Prasad and imposed a constructive trust on the Washingtons’ lot in favor of Prasad with a money judgment in the amount he expended on the house. The Supreme Court reversed and entered final judgment for the Washingtons, holding that under long-standing common law principles regarding notice imputed to purchasers of real property, because it was Prasad’s failure to exercise due diligence in his purchase of his lot that resulted in his misidentification of the Washingtons’ parcel as the property he was purchasing, Prasad was not entitled to recover compensation for the permanent improvements he made on the premises. View "Washington v. Prasad" on Justia Law

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In 2004, the prior owner of certain property acquired title to the property and granted a deed of trust on the property to Bank of America. The City of Portsmouth subsequently created the New Port Community Development Authority (CDA), which included the property at issue. In 2006, the CDA authorized the issuance of special assessment bonds, and the City enacted an ordinance establishing special assessments on properties in the CDA district. The prior owner subsequently subdivided the property and sold individual lots. In 2011, Bank of America sold the notes it held to Plaintiff and assigned it the deed of trust. Following the prior owner’s default, the property was foreclosed upon, and Plaintiff was the successful bidder. Plaintiff then filed suit, claiming that the special assessment lien was extinguished by the foreclosure sale and that the special assessments should be declared void because no CDA bond funds remained to construct additional improvements. The circuit court dismissed the complaint with prejudice. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that a special assessment lien has priority over a deed of trust that was recorded before the special assessments, and therefore, Virginia law foreclosed Plaintiff’s challenge. View "Cygnus Newport-Phase 1B, LLC v. City of Portsmouth" on Justia Law