Property Servitude

Property servitude is not what it may sound like; it does not involve servants. Servitude in this context refers to someone having control over a property they do not own. That is, the property is owned by one party, but a different party has control over that property in a specific way.

For example, if one property is blocked from the road by another property, the blocked-off property owner may have a limited right to drive over the roadside property in order to reach the road. The blocked-off property owner does not have any other control over the roadside property except for a right to drive over it. This right to drive over the property would be limited; that is, the owner of the blocked-off property would not have the right to drive all over the property wherever they want, but would have the right to some specific path over the property for the sole purpose of reaching the road.

The reason the word “servitude” is used here is because one property (or “estate”) is dominant, and the other estate is “servient.” In the above example, the dominant property is the property that has a right-of-way over the other property, and the property that may be crossed over is the servient property.

This dominant and servient relationship between properties can take many forms. For example, if one property is located on a hill, that property may have a right to see over the property next to it that is lower down the hill. This might mean that the lower property would only be able to build a one-story house, since a two-story house might block the other property’s view. The uphill property that has a right to look over the property below it would be the dominant estate, and the property that may not block the view would be the servient estate.

These dominant/servient relationships are generally between properties, not between people. That is, the owner of the uphill property only has the right to control the other property’s height while they own their property. If the owner sells their uphill property, they no longer have any control over the neighboring property, but the new owner of the uphill property would have control over the neighboring property’s height.

Another word for the dominant/servient property relationship is easement. The dominant properties described above have some sort of easement over the servient properties. This easement is some right to use or control another property. These easements belong to the dominant property, not to the individual owner. Thus, these easements are appurtenant to the properties described here, meaning that the easements are attached to the properties themselves, and stay with the properties even when they are sold to new owners.

Property law is very complex. Even if you are the sole owner of a property, there may be multiple other parties who have certain control of your property in specific ways.