Understanding Servitude Rights in Scottish Commercial Property Law

Understanding Servitude Rights in Scottish Commercial Property Law

When navigating the complexities of commercial property law in Scotland, understanding servitude rights is essential. These rights, which may sound archaic, play a crucial role in modern property transactions and developments. Servitudes can significantly impact the value, use, and enjoyment of commercial properties, making it vital for property owners, developers, and legal professionals to grasp their implications. 

What Are Servitude Rights? 

In essence, a servitude is a legal right granted to one property owner (the “benefited property”) over the land of another (the “burdened property”). This right allows the benefited property to utilize part of the burdened property’s land for specific purposes. Common examples include rights of way, rights to lay utilities, or rights to access a neighbouring property’s resources, such as water. 

Creating Servitude Rights 

Servitude rights in Scotland can be established in several ways: 

  1. Express Grant:

This is the most common method, where servitude rights are explicitly granted in a deed or legal document. This often occurs during the sale or lease of a property. 

  1. Implied Grant or Reservation:

Servitudes can also be implied, meaning they are not explicitly mentioned but are inferred from the circumstances of the transaction or the use of the property. 

  1. Prescription:

Rights can be acquired through long-term use under the doctrine of “prescription”. If a property owner uses another’s land openly and continuously for a specific period (20 years for positive servitudes), they may establish a legal right to continue that use. 

  1. Statutory Creation:

Some servitudes can be created by statutes, especially in the context of public utilities or infrastructure projects. 

Common Types of Servitudes in Commercial Property 

  1. Rights of Way:

Allowing access across another’s land, essential for properties lacking direct access to public roads. 

  1. Utility Servitudes:

Rights to install and maintain utilities like water, gas, electricity, or telecommunication lines, crucial for commercial development and operation. 

  1. Drainage and Sewerage:

Permitting the installation and maintenance of drainage systems across neighbouring properties, vital for managing waste and water. 

  1. Support and Light:

Ensuring neighbouring buildings can rely on structural support or access to natural light, important in dense urban developments. 

Implications for Commercial Property Transactions 

  1. Due Diligence:

When buying or leasing commercial property, thorough due diligence is essential to identify any existing servitudes. Understanding these rights can affect the property’s value and potential uses. 

  1. Negotiation and Drafting:

Clear drafting and negotiation of servitude rights are crucial to avoid disputes. Both parties must clearly understand the rights being granted or reserved and their implications. 

  1. Impact on Development:

For property developers, servitudes can impact site plans, access, and utility installations. Early identification and management of these rights can prevent costly delays and redesigns. 

Resolving Disputes Over Servitudes 

Disputes over servitude rights are not uncommon and can arise from issues like unclear terms, changes in land use, or interference with the servitude. In Scotland, such disputes can be resolved through negotiation, mediation, or ultimately, litigation. The Scottish courts have a robust framework for interpreting and enforcing servitude rights, often relying on the principle of balancing the interests of both the benefited and burdened properties. 


Servitude rights are a fundamental aspect of Scottish commercial property law, with significant implications for property use, development, and value. Understanding these rights is crucial for property owners, developers, and legal professionals. Whether you are negotiating a property transaction, planning a development, or managing an existing property, a clear grasp of servitude rights can help navigate the complexities of commercial property law in Scotland. 

For any commercial property transaction or dispute, it’s advisable to seek expert legal advice to ensure that servitude rights are adequately understood, respected, and managed. With the right knowledge and guidance, these ancient rights can be effectively integrated into the modern landscape of Scottish commercial property law. 

If you would like to learn more about our Real Estate services please view our services here.

Aisling Crossan
Trainee Solicitor, Real Estate
Email:  acrossan@gilsongray.co.uk

Sign up to our News & Insights!