Real estate and property law refers to the area of law that concerns issues relating to land and the structures on them. It can involve buyers and sellers in real estate purchase transactions. Or, it might involve neighboring landowners and the boundaries of properties they own or the uses they wish to make of their real estate. It can also involve building contractors, as well as real estate brokers and agents.
Real estate law might, for example, help clarify exactly what is being bought and sold in terms of boundaries, title, and the condition of properties. In real estate buy-sell transactions, it is important that the contracts involved are expertly written, providing all the information required by law and regulations.
Another important area of real estate law is landlord-tenant law, which regulates the relationship between property owners and the tenants to whom they rent their property. Landlord-tenant law can involve rental agreements that are either commercial or residential.
Federal law applies to real estate and property law as well. The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in the renting, selling and lending of housing on the basis of membership in a protected class. Discrimination is prohibited in all phases of real property ownership, including mortgage lending. Federal law can also affect the uses made of real property through environmental and land use regulation.
Local zoning laws can also have an impact on real property as they regulate many details concerning the uses that owners can make of the property they own.
Finally, nowadays, many people own or rent real estate that is located in homeowners’ associations, condominium associations or cooperatives. These properties come with rules contained in covenants and by-laws that restrict what the owner can do with the property, require maintenance of the units and impose penalties for violations of rules. These covenants and by-laws can have a significant impact on an owner’s use of their property.
What Is a Real Estate Lawsuit?
Real estate lawsuits can be those that involve any kind of dispute concerning real property. These lawsuits are often filed over issues such as loan foreclosure, establishing property title and boundary lines, and zoning and land use issues. Landlord-tenant relations can give rise to many lawsuits, especially unlawful detainer actions in which a landlord seeks to evict a tenant from a property owned by the landlord.
In recent years, specific legal concepts have become the focus of real estate lawsuits. Some examples would include subprime mortgages and junior mortgages. The parties to disputes involving subprime loans and foreclosed mortgage loans might include the following:
- The homeowner, usually the borrower in a mortgage loan agreement;
- The mortgage loan company, usually the lender;
- Other lenders, which might be banks or private lenders;
- The mortgage lenders for second or third mortgages;
- Appraisers who estimate the value of properties, often for mortgage lenders.
It is important to note that real property refers to property which is land and any structures attached directly to the land. This includes single family homes, condominiums, and apartments, as well as land and buildings that are used for commercial, industrial and agricultural purposes. It can include bodies of water such as ponds and canals.
What Are Some Common Causes of Action in Real Estate Lawsuits?
Property and real estate disputes can often lead to lawsuits, if they cannot first be settled outside of court. Real estate disputes are legal conflicts involving structures affixed to the land, or a piece of land itself. Many real property disputes involve the breach of contract, often in connection with the sale or rental of property.
Some examples of common real property disputes include:
- Disagreements between neighbors regarding the exact location of the boundary between their properties;
- Neighbors intentionally blocking the view of other neighbors via spite fencing or other barriers, such as a row of trees or hedges in order to annoy their neighbors;
- Landlord and tenant disputes, such as who is responsible for damages and repairs to a rental property;
- Mortgage lenders and other creditors disputing foreclosures on a specific property;
- Violations of land use and zoning regulations.
Other common causes of action in real estate lawsuits include:
- Failure to pay monthly mortgage payments, which leads to foreclosure;
- Failure to pay rent, which leads to eviction;
- Fraudulent transfers of real estate titles and other frauds in real estate transactions;
- An owner or tenant making an Illegal use of land or property, leading to enforcement of zoning laws or covenants;
- Disputes with a mortgage lender, which may involve foreclosure, mortgage fraud, predatory lending practices, or discrimination;
- Disputes over title to property.
Most real estate disputes involve state law. With some exceptions, much of the law that applies to real estate is state law. While each state may have different laws regarding real property, certain concepts are found in the law of most states. A person should, however, consult with a local real estate attorney if they are facing a real estate lawsuit in order to ensure that they understand the law in the state in which the property is located.
In fact, according to the doctrine of local action which derives from common law, a lawsuit that involves issues related to real property must be brought within the state in which the land is located. Under federal law, federal courts also must apply the local action doctrine as a matter of federal common law. Any civil lawsuit involving properties located in different federal districts within the same state can be brought in any of the districts.
What Are Some Typical Remedies in a Real Estate Lawsuit?
Real estate disputes are commonly resolved through an award of money damages in order to compensate the party who is not at fault for any losses. But real estate lawsuits are varied, as noted above and lawsuits can often lead to other specific remedies, such as:
- Injunctions, such as a court order to cease construction;
- Eviction from a tenancy;
- Foreclosure mortgage loan;
- Mediation or arbitration, which would involve a neutral third party facilitating a resolution between the disputing parties;
- Various fines or fees, which is common for city or state zoning and land use violations;
- Specific performance, which is mandating that one party provide a performance as promised in a contract;
- A court ordering placement of a judicial lien on a property in order to satisfy a debt.
The kind of dispute resolution that is available depends on the type of conflict involved. An example of this would be a breach of real estate contract claim, in which the party may need to choose between an award of money damages or a specific performance award. Additionally, state laws could influence which types of remedies are available based on the nature of specific dispute.
In many real estate lawsuits, an award of money damages is not the legally prescribed remedy. For example, if a mortgage borrower is going through foreclosure, they may not have the funds to correct their delinquency. The result is that they must vacate the property, which is sold by the lender to recover the amount owed on the loan.
Do I Need an Attorney to Assist with a Real Estate Lawsuit?
If you find yourself in a real estate dispute, it is in your best interest to consult a skilled property lawyer in your area. One option is an experienced real estate lawyer who can help you determine your state’s law regarding your issue. But the lawyer you should consult is yet another aspect of the law that depends on the kind of dispute you have. There are lawyers who specialize in landlord-tenant law.
There are others who would specialize in mortgage foreclosure. And still other lawyers know their way around local zoning agencies and zoning regulations. But an experienced real estate lawyer is always a good place to start if you are not sure what kind of lawyer might be the best choice for your dispute.