Virginia Law School 1L Study Guide for Property

Property law governs the relationships between individuals and the objects they own. In Virginia, property law covers both personal and real property.

  1. Real Property: It refers to immovable property such as land and any structures attached to it.
  2. Personal Property: This refers to moveable items that an individual owns.


  1. Fee Simple Absolute: The highest estate recognized by law. The holder has full possessory rights now and in the future.
  2. Life Estate: A possessory interest in property that lasts for the life of the holder of the estate.
  3. Leasehold Estate: A temporary right to occupy land or property.
  4. Concurrent Estates: More than one person owning property at the same time.

Example Case: White v. Brown (1977)
Issue: Whether the clause “for the rest of her natural life” in the will creates a life estate.
Rule: A property granted “for the rest of her natural life” creates a life estate.
Application: The court determined that the language in the will did indeed create a life estate.
Conclusion: The court ruled that the property was a life estate.


In Virginia, the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (VRLTA) governs the landlord-tenant relationship. Key concepts include:

  1. Lease Agreement: A contract outlining the terms under which one party agrees to rent property owned by another party.
  2. Security Deposit: A deposit of money to the landlord to ensure that rent will be paid and other responsibilities of the lease will be performed.
  3. Repair and Deduct: The right of the tenant to repair serious defects in the rental unit and to deduct certain expenses from the rent.

Example Case: Isbell v. Commercial Investment Associates, Inc. (1998)
Issue: Whether the landlord breached the lease agreement.
Rule: A landlord breaches a lease if they fail to maintain the property to a habitable standard.
Application: The court found that the landlord had indeed breached the lease agreement by failing to make necessary repairs.
Conclusion: The court ruled in favor of the tenant.


  1. Easements: A right to cross or otherwise use someone else’s land for a specified purpose.
  2. Covenants: A covenant in its most general sense and historical sense, is a solemn promise to engage in or refrain from a specified action.

Example Case: Wing v. Commonwealth, 162 Va. 705 (1934)
Issue: Whether an easement by prescription was recognized.
Rule: An easement by prescription is recognized after continuous use of the property for a statutory period.
Application: The court found that the plaintiff had continuously used the property for the statutory period.
Conclusion: The court recognized the easement by prescription.


Under Virginia law, to establish a claim of adverse possession, the claimant’s possession must be actual, hostile, exclusive, visible, and continuous for the statutory period of 15 years.

Example Case: Smoot v. Cater, 209 Va. 378 (1969)
Issue: Whether the defendant satisfied all the elements to claim adverse possession.
Rule: Adverse possession requires actual, hostile, exclusive, visible, and continuous possession for 15 years.
Application: The court determined that the defendant satisfied these elements.
Conclusion: The court granted the claim of adverse possession.


Under the Fifth Amendment, private property can’t be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Example Case: Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005)
Issue: Whether the city’s acquisition of private property constitutes a permissible public use under the Fifth Amendment.
Rule: A taking is permissible if it serves a public purpose.
Application: The court determined that the city’s economic development plan served a public purpose.
Conclusion: The court ruled that the taking was permissible.

This study guide is a brief overview of the concepts and cases relevant to a 1L Property course in Virginia. Make sure to review each concept in detail and study the cases to understand how courts apply these concepts in different contexts. Understanding the facts of each case and how the law was applied will be essential for exam preparation. Good luck with your studies!

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