What Is Realty?

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 What Is Realty?

Realty is another term used to refer to “real estate” and “real property.” It consists of land and the structures on the land. Realty can refer to both commercial and residential property.

What Is Realty Law?

Realty law, or real property law, is the body of law that governs the buying, selling, and use of land and structures on land, whether residential, commercial or dedicated to public use, e.g. public roadways and public buildings. Laws governing transactions in real property are designed to ensure fair dealing on the part of sellers, buyers, real estate agents, builders, landowners, tenants, and landlords.

Municipalities, states, and the federal government all have laws controlling real property and transactions related to it. For example, state laws regulate residential and commercial property transactions and landlord-tenant rental transactions.

Federal law also regulates aspects of transactions and use, such as housing discrimination and environmental regulations. Federal and state tax laws impose taxes on profits realized from real estate transactions. In addition, there are a myriad of regulations addressing the use of property, including everything from local zoning ordinances to federal environmental regulations.

What Are Some Common Realty Disputes?

Realty matters give rise to a range of common legal issues for each party involved in a real property transaction or dispute. These issues may involve:

  • Fraud: There is ample opportunity for fraud to occur in connection with real estate transactions. For example, a seller can misrepresent the characteristics of the property they want to sell in order to induce a buyer to purchase the property at a higher price than it is really worth. Or, a person who wants to buy a house may provide false information on a mortgage loan application in order to qualify for a loan. The possibilities for fraud in real estate dealings are almost endless;
  • Required Disclosures in Residential Real Estate Sales: Most states have laws that require sellers of residential real estate, e.g., houses, townhouses, and condominiums, to disclose material defects and potential problems to buyers. Many states require the disclosures to be made in a written document signed by both the seller and the buyer. If a seller fails to make the required disclosures and the buyer discovers material defects, there could be a lawsuit;
  • Appraisal Problems: Of course, people involved in real property transactions can have differences concerning the value of the property involved. Appraisers are usually hired by mortgage loan lenders to provide an objective assessment of a property’s value. But appraisers can themselves be involved in a scheme to defraud a mortgage lender by producing an appraisal that assigns an inflated value to the property in the transaction;
  • Mortgage Loan Default: If a mortgage loan borrower fails to make their monthly payments, the loan can go into foreclosure, the process in which the lender takes possession of the property, so it can sell it and satisfy the loan. Loan default and foreclosure are common transactions involving real estate.
  • Zoning Ordinances: Counties and cities have zoning ordinances which regulate the kinds of uses that can be made of real property within their borders. Zoning ordinances specify that properties in certain areas may be used only in certain specified ways, e.g., only for residential purposes or for industrial purposes. If a person makes use that is not allowed,
  • Unlawful Detainer: If a tenant has failed to pay their rent or has otherwise violated the terms of their lease, then their landlord can initiate a lawful detainer action to remove the tenant from the rental unit.
  • Title Disputes: One common kind of title dispute is disputes over property boundaries and where they are located.
  • HOA Disputes: In many cities and suburbs today, a large percentage of the residential real estate is located in communities that are governed by homeowners associations (HOAs) and condominium associations (CAs). These communities have their own rules, often referred to as “covenants and bylaws,” which govern many aspects of property ownership in the community.
    • For example, HOA covenants may control whether and how a person can alter the exterior of their home or townhome. They generally control what use a person can make of their unit, such as banning many business uses. Covenants and bylaws often generate disputes.
  • Covenants: Another common type of dispute in connection with realty law is one that involves covenants. In realty law, a covenant is an agreement between two or more people about the uses that can or cannot be made of a piece of real property. A covenant can either benefit or burden a landowner.
    • A restrictive covenant is one that burdens the landowner because it either obligates the owner to do something or prohibits them from doing something. For example, a negative restrictive covenant might prohibit a landowner from building fences or building them in certain locations on a piece of property.
    • Some covenants can “run with the land,” a legal phrase meaning that the covenant remains in effect even if the property is sold to a new owner. The new landowner remains either burdened or benefited by the covenant. Or, a covenant can be personal to a particular landowner who agrees to it. It does not pass to subsequent owners. Disputes arise as to whether a covenant is personal or runs with the land.

This is only a sampling of the more common kinds of legal issues that can arise in connection with real property.

What Remedies Are Available in a Realty Law Dispute?

The exact remedy available to a person in a realty dispute depends on the specifics of the case, the type of property involved, and the nature of the dispute. However, some remedies that might be available in many realty cases are as follows:

  • Damages: A person might be able to file a civil lawsuit to recover money damages for any economic losses the person has suffered. For example, in a fraud case, if the value of a property that a person bought is far less because it has material defects that were not disclosed, the difference between the actual value of the property and the value it would have had if it had been as represented by the seller might be recovered as damages in a lawsuit for fraud or failure to disclose;
  • Injunctions: This is a court order by a judge stopping a party from taking certain actions such as recording a property deed or making changes to a structure or other element of real property;
  • Foreclosure Sale: This is another type of court order, but it requires the sale of a property. The money from the sale goes to the lender of a mortgage loan after the borrower has failed to make multiple mortgage payments and the lender has foreclosed on the loan, forcing a sale to satisfy the remaining mortgage loan debt.
  • Eviction: If a tenant has not paid their rent or has otherwise violated the terms of their lease, the landlord can file an unlawful detainer action. The end result if the landlord is successful would be the eviction of the tenant;
  • Administrative Remedies: If a person is involved in a dispute regarding the application of local zoning ordinances, their remedy might be a ruling from a local planning board for a special exception to a zoned use or a variance from a zoned use limitation. The law in a particular location may allow the person who does not get the remedy they seek from their local government, to appeal the zoning decision to a state civil court of general jurisdiction.
  • HOA Remedies: In a dispute with an HOA or a CA, a person might seek a variance from an architectural covenant or they might want to argue that a covenant does not apply to them for some reason. The covenants would probably require an owner to appeal to the board of directors to the community as a first step in seeking the appropriate relief given the circumstances. This would come in the form of a decision by the board.
    • If the desired relief is not obtained, the property owner might be able to appeal to a local commission or administrative agency. Or the person might be able to seek relief, either an injunction or some other remedy, from a state civil court of general jurisdiction.
  • Declaratory Judgment: In a case involving a covenant, the relief that a person might seek through a lawsuit filed in a state civil court would be a declaration that a covenant either runs with the land and is binding in perpetuity on all owners or that it is personal and ends when the owner who entered into the covenant sells their interest in the property.

Should I Contact a Lawyer about Realty Laws?

There is a wide range of disputes that can arise in connection with real property. If you are involved in a dispute of any kind, you should consult an experienced property lawyer for guidance.

Your attorney can tell you what kind of remedies are available under the applicable law and what procedure is available for seeking the remedy. Contact a lawyer to understand more about your rights and how to proceed with your dispute.

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