Servitudes can be simply described as obligations or restrictions attached to a property - and by extension to its owners - and which have been established either in the interests of the general public or one or more individuals.
Servitudes considered to be in the public interest typically can include any restrictions relating to the design and construction of a property when it is close to a historic site, a conservation area, zones of special architectural interest, or in connection with access to public facilities such as electricity pylons, transformers etc; gas, telephone and water installations; or related to public safety, including roads (where land might be requisitioned for widening) and access for emergency vehicles. In areas designated as being at risk, for example of flooding, there may be restrictions about the level of a property's ground floor in relation to the public highway.
There are invariably restrictions in terms of a building's orientation and its alignment with other buildings and the public highway.
Private servitudes relate to matters such as the height of plants and trees in your garden, and their distance from the property's boundaries; buildings and extensions in relation to their height, distance from boundaries, and your neighbour's right to sunlight and fresh air, which cannot be compromised. Local byelaws and/or the rules of the co-ownership syndicate invariably include restricitons such as the height and type of boundary wall, fencing or shrubbery.
Disputes frequently arise with regard to rights of passage across private land, and they will always be granted to allow access to an otherwise isolated property (to or from the public highway). Building extensions, including terraces, are not allowed to intrude into common areas - such as a garden or courtyard - of a co-ownership building. However if a wall of your building forms part of the boundary line, your neighbour cannot deny you reasonable access to carry out maintenance work on your building, using a ladder or scaffolding on his property.
It is advisable to check carefully when buying a property for the presence and implications of any servitudes, which should be accurately described in the property documents. In addition, national and local planning regulations apply to every type of new building, extension or alteration, and you should always take appropriate advice before starting any work.