Real estate and property law refers to the area of law that provides protections for buyers, sellers, land owners, contractors, real estate agents, and builders. These protections help clarify exactly what is being bought and sold in terms of boundaries, titles, and the condition of the premises. During real estate transactions, it is important that the sales and purchase documents are well written and provide all necessary information. This helps to avoid problems and delays later on in the sales and transfer process, including potential litigation.
State real estate law regulates both commercial and residential real property transactions. Landlord and tenant relationships are also regulated by state real estate laws. Federal law provides legal protections for discrimination under the Fair Housing Act, as well as environmental violations.
Real estate lawsuits are those that involve disputes over real property, such as a residential home. These lawsuits are often filed over issues such as foreclosure, mortgage disputes, establishing property title and boundary lines, and zoning and land use issues. In recent years, more specific legal concepts have become the focus of real estate lawsuits. Some examples of this would include subprime mortgages and junior mortgages.
These lawsuits can involve various different parties, including:
- The homeowner, who is usually the borrower in a mortgage agreement;
- The mortgage company, who is usually the lender;
- Other lending institutions, such as banks or private lenders;
- Secondary or tertiary mortgage companies;
- Appraisers who estimate the value of the property; and
- Government bodies, specifically for land use or zoning disputes.
It is important to note that real property refers to immovable property that is attached directly to the land. This includes single family homes, condominiums, and apartments, as well as bodies of water such as ponds and canals. Real property can also refer to roads.
Property and real estate disputes often lead to real estate lawsuits, if they cannot first be settled outside of court. Real estate disputes are legal conflicts involving property affixed to the land, or a piece of land itself. Real estate disputes do not include disputes over personal property. Most property and real estate disputes involve a breach of contract, typically in regards to the sale of the property. Some examples of common property and real estate disputes include:
- Disagreements between neighbors regarding where the property line actually exists;
- Neighbors intentionally blocking the view of other neighbors via spite fencing or other structures such as a row of trees, bushes, or hedges in order to annoy their neighbors;
- Landlord and tenant disputes, such as who is responsible for what damages and repairs in a rental property; and
- Mortgage lenders and creditors disputing over who may foreclose on a specific property, therefore receiving the proceeds of the foreclosure sale.
Some of the most common causes of action in real estate lawsuits include:
- Failure to pay monthly mortgage payments;
- Breach of mortgage contract;
- Unauthorized transfers of real estate titles;
- Illegal usage of land or property;
- Disputes with a mortgage lender, such as foreclosure, mortgage fraud, predatory lending practices, and discrimination; and
- Disputes regarding title or property records.
The aforementioned causes of action are just some of the most common causes of action that could form the basis of a real estate lawsuit. Some real estate lawsuits may be more complex and involve several different legal concepts and issues.
Additionally, each state may have different laws regarding real estate and property. Therefore, it is important to consult with a local real estate attorney if you are facing a real estate lawsuit in order to ensure you understand what is legal in your state.
Real estate disputes are commonly resolved through a damages award in order to compensate the non-liable party for any losses resulting from the issue. These types of lawsuits are often associated with other specific remedies, such as:
- Injunctions, such as a court order to cease any additional construction efforts;
- Mediation or arbitration, which would involve a neutral third party to help facilitate discussions and resolutions between the disputing parties;
- Various fines or fees, which is common for city or state zoning/land use violations;
- Restructuring of a contract or loan agreement to better accommodate the parties involved;
- Specific performance, such as requiring that one party perform their agreed to contract duties; or
- Judicial sale of the property, or judicial lien on the property.
Available dispute resolution 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 a monetary damages award or a specific performance award. Additionally, state laws could influence which types of remedies are available based on the specific dispute.
In many real estate lawsuits, a monetary damages award may not always be practical. It could be difficult to convince a party to pay their missed mortgage payments, especially if they have already exhausted their available funds. Courts may frequently recommend alternative legal remedies, such as the forced sale of the home with the proceeds going to the lender.
As previously mentioned, real estate and property issues may involve several legal issues simultaneously. Additionally, real estate cases can be complex, and the laws governing real estate issues and lawsuits vary by state.
Therefore, if you find yourself in a real estate dispute, it is in your best interests to consult with a skilled and knowledgeable property attorney in your area. An experienced property attorney can help you determine your state’s laws regarding your issue, and file or respond to a claim on your behalf. Finally, an attorney can represent you in court as needed.