Essentials of Real Estate Law
- One of the most basic principles in property law is the difference between real estate or real property, and personal property. Real property is anything associated or a fixed with owning land, while personal property is generally everything else. According to the Cornell University Law school legal information Institute, real property consists of everything that is permanently connected to the land, such as mineral rights or structures.
- Real property is differentiated based on the kind of estate it is. Typically, real property is considered either a freehold estate, non-freehold estate or a concurrent state. Freehold estates are pieces of real property to which the owner has an indefinite period of ownership. People owning freehold estates can dispose of it in any manner they choose.
A non-freehold estate is one where the owner has limited property interests. These are most commonly found in rental situations where a landlord grants a tenant the right to live on the property for a limited period of time.
Concurrent estates, on the other hand, are very similar to freehold estates but exist where two or more people own an interest in the land at the same time. Generally, such property cannot be disposed of without all the owners coming to an agreement.
- Whenever someone wants to buy or sell a piece of real estate, state and federal laws impose specific restrictions and requirements on the transaction. All states require real estate agents or salespeople to be licensed by the state before they can engage in real estate transactions on behalf of someone else. Further, federal laws like the Fair Housing Act prohibit anyone engaged in a real estate transaction from discriminating against a potential buyer based on factors such as race, religion, national origin or sex. Each state's statute of frauds generally requires real estate transactions to be made in writing. There are some exceptions to this rule, such as oral agreements made between a landlord and tenant for the lease of rental property.
- While property owners generally have the exclusive right to use real estate as they see fit, restrictions on how land can be used are commonly imposed by state and local governments in the form of zoning laws.
Zoning laws are enacted by local or municipal zoning bodies to regulate land use. Common zoning restrictions include limiting certain areas to use for only residential, commercial or industrial purposes. These rules must be established in accordance with each state's zoning laws, and they generally require zoning organizations to come up with a plan and hold public hearings before enacting any new zoning ordinance.