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Law School Case Brief

River Heights Assocs. v. Batten - 267 Va. 262, 591 S.E.2d 683 (2004)

Rule:

No hard and fast rule can be laid down as to when changed conditions have defeated the purpose of deed restrictions, but it can be safely asserted the changes must be so radical as practically to destroy the essential objects and purposes of the restrictions.

Facts:

Restrictive covenants were established in a deed. Among other restrictions, the property was to be used for residential purposes only. Part of it was soon subdivided, and later resubdivided, into four lots. A few years later, the county adopted a comprehensive zoning ordinance. The four lots were zoned for commercial use but were subject to the restrictive covenant prohibiting such use. About the same time, the subdivision was created. Over the years, the area of the main highway route that ran next to the subdivision became highly-developed commercially. However, the subdivision itself hardly changed at all. One of the lot owners wanted to build an office complex on the lots, which were owned by defendants. Plaintiff objecting lot owners sought a declaratory judgment that the restrictive covenants prohibited such construction. The trial court agreed with plaintiff. The state supreme court affirmed the trial court's judgment.

Issue:

Were the changes which occurred in and around the subdivision so radical such that the purpose of the restrictive covenant prohibiting the use of the subject lots for commercial purposes was destroyed?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The changes within the subdivision and the surrounding area were not so radical as to destroy the purpose of the covenants.

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