Property Legal Definition

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 What is Property?

In real estate law, property is generally defined as the legal right to control, use, and/or distribute a tangible or intangible object that one owns. Property rights also permit an owner to exclude others from using or possessing the object in question.

In general, there are two components that make up property: possession and title. Possession refers to the right to maintain physical control over the property. In comparison, title concerns the legal documentation that indicates who has the actual right to possess and control a specific piece of property.

For instance, when a buyer purchases real property like a home, they will receive the title to that home at the closing to prove that they are now the new owner of it. A buyer may also receive title documents when they purchase a car or an empty plot of land.

Although possession and title rights are extremely important when it comes to owning real property, there are many other factors to consider under real estate law. Thus, if you have any questions or concerns about a specific property issue, you should consult a local real estate lawyer for further advice.

What are Some Different Types of Property?

In general, the law divides property into three main categories: real property, personal property (i.e., chattel), and intellectual property.

The first category, real property, covers immovable and tangible objects, such as buildings, houses, and land plots. Some other examples of real property may also include crops, fences, and machinery. Basically, real property is an interest in any object that is permanently affixed to the land, including the land itself. This category of property may be further divided into commercial and residential real estate.

The second category, personal property, is essentially the direct opposite of real property in that it refers to objects that are movable and covers most belongings except for buildings and land. In other words, if the object can be moved from one location to another, then it will most likely be classified as personal property.

Another difference between real and personal property is that personal property may consist of either tangible or intangible objects. Some examples of tangible personal property items include clothing, money, furniture, and books. On the other hand, intangible property is personal property that cannot be physically handled, such as stocks and bonds.

The third and final main category of property is intellectual property. Intellectual property applies to a broad collection of property rights that are vested in intangible property, such as creations, discovery, certain inventions, and designs. The rights to intellectual property can be afforded to others through a temporary licensing agreement. The four main subcategories of intellectual property are copyrights, trademarks, patents, and trade secrets.

What are Some Legal Issues Associated with Property?

Some common legal issues that are associated with property and real estate matters include:

  • Establishing title to property: It is not always clear who holds title to property. This can happen when a person does not follow the proper requirements of the recording statute in their state, inherits property through an invalid will, loses title due to adverse possession, owns property through a wild deed, and/or purchases property that has a hidden lien on it.
  • Landlord and tenant disputes: Both landlord and tenants have certain rights under the law. For example, tenants have a right to quiet enjoyment of their property and landlords have a right to receive rent payments. Thus, there are many legal issues that can come up in a landlord and tenant dispute, such as a breach of the lease agreement, eviction, withholding of a security deposit, hold over tenants, failure to pay rent, and damages to property.
  • Zoning and land use issues: Zoning and land use regulations prescribe how certain types of property or land can or cannot be used. For example, a local government may designate a specific part of a city as a residential zone. This means that there can be no construction of commercial buildings or business operations unless the area is part of a mixed zone or an entity holds a special permit.
    • Thus, some issues that may arise when dealing with zoning and land use regulations may include set back issues, pollution or waste, nonconformity with a zoning plan, property boundaries, and permit violations.
  • Foreclosures: Foreclosure issues are pretty straight-forward, but usually involve causes of action for wrongful foreclosures, breach of contract, and failure to serve proper notice on the mortgagor. However, actions for foreclosure are heavily dependent on state law. As such, there may be other causes of actions a person can bring under the laws enacted in their specific jurisdiction.
  • Wills, trusts, and estate matters: There are many different issues that can arise in connection with wills, trusts, and estate matters. One of the most common issues involves whether a trust or will was formed in accordance with the relevant requirements. Wills or trusts that are formed improperly will be considered invalid, which will cause the beneficiaries to those documents to lose the right to inherit or receive the property.
    • Some other legal disputes that may arise in connection with these topics include probate matters (e.g., dispute over estate values, challenges against person named as executor, newer versions of a will, etc.), trustee breached fiduciary duties to a trust, and not removing an ex-spouse’s name from a will, joint account, or insurance policy.

What if I Have a Property Dispute?

The process for filing a lawsuit when an individual has a property dispute will depend on the issue in question, the category of property law that the dispute falls under, the circumstances surrounding the dispute, and on the laws of the jurisdiction where the case is being heard.

Given the sheer volume of information that has to be identified before proceeding with a lawsuit, it may be in a person’s best interest to consult a local real estate lawyer. This allows the person to discuss their options for legal recourse in regard to their particular dispute, as well as to learn more about the laws and procedures required to settle a property dispute.

Additionally, a person should also speak to a lawyer about the types of remedies they may be able to recover in a property dispute since remedies will vary by jurisdiction, the facts of an individual case, the claim being asserted, and so forth.

In general, some typical remedies that a person who prevails in a property dispute might be able to claim include the following:

  • Monetary damages;
  • An injunction;
  • A license or permit (e.g., zoning issues);
  • Punitive damages;
  • Restitution (e.g., return of property); and
  • Various other forms of relief that relate to a specific case.

Do I Need an Attorney for Help with a Property Issue?

As is evident from the above discussion, property issues can be fairly complicated and often require a thorough understanding of the applicable laws in a given jurisdiction as well as knowledge of how to apply those laws. Therefore, if you have any questions about property or are involved in a dispute over property, you should consider contacting a local property lawyer for further assistance.

An experienced property lawyer will be able to answer any questions you may have about property issues and can help you understand the property laws in your jurisdiction. Your lawyer can also inform you of your rights under those laws and can determine whether you have grounds to file a lawsuit in connection with a particular property issue.

In addition, your lawyer can provide representation in court or assist you in settling a property matter outside of court in the event of a property dispute.

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