Property law is the area of law that governs the various forms of ownership and tenancy in real property (land as distinct from personal or movable possessions) and in personal property, within the common law legal system.
Property signifies dominion or right of use, control, and disposition which one may lawfully exercise over things, objects, or land. One of the basic dividing lines between property is that between real property and personal property. Generally, the term real property refers to land. Land, in its general usage, includes not only the face of the earth but everything of a permanent nature over or under it. This includes structures and minerals.
Real estate may be either residential or commercial. It can be owned by one person but used by another through rental arrangements. Land can be bought or sold, and due to its high value, there are many local laws that ensure real estate transactions are properly performed and recorded. Land may also pass between family members through estate planning, or may be owned by more than one person. Finally, state and local governments have rules concerning the purposes for which land may be used. For example, each plot of land must be used according to local zoning laws, and landowners may not damage the surrounding environment.
There are further divisions within the real property classification. The most important are freehold estates, nonfreehold estates, and concurrent estates. (Others are future interests, specialty estates, and incorporeal interests).
- Freehold estates are those in which an individual has ownership for an indefinite period of time. An example of a freehold estate is the “fee simple absolute”, which is inheritable and lasts as long as the individual and his heirs wants to keep it. Another example is the “life estate”, in which the individual retains possession of the land for the duration of his or her life.
- Nonfreehold estates are property interests of limited duration. They include tenancy for years, tenancy at will, and tenancy at sufferance.
- Concurrent estates exist when property is owned or possessed by two or more individuals simultaneously.
The practice area of real estate and property law deals with a variety of related issues, such as:
- rights and interests in real estate and real property;
- sales, purchases and other transfers of real estate and real property;
- legal aspects of rental property and landlord issues;
- tenants’, renters’ and homeowners’ rights;
- title to real property;
- settlement of claims against property rights;
- property development;
- zoning and land use;
- related agriculture issues;
- home loans and foreclosures;
- and various other relevant topics.
Real estate attorneys are not legally required at every transaction, however, hiring one can be very useful for the average homebuyers. First, real estate attorneys can review the house’s transaction history and title to ensure that the house is able to be sold and that no past owners will come back claiming to still own the house. Second, many attorneys can advise homeowners regarding their mortgaging options. Third, attorneys can help review the contract of sale to make sure there it is fair to all parties.