Real Estate Law

Real estate law is the branch of law that deals with the ownership, transfer and rental of land and the buildings and natural resources that are attached to it. This includes the rights of individuals and companies who use these properties.


There are several ways that landownership may be transferred. One way is by sale. In addition, landowners can also give their property to someone for life or allow them a temporary lease.

Legal Rights of Property Owners

The legal rights of property owners are an important part of real estate law. These rights include possession, control, exclusion, derivation of income and disposition. They are usually described as a bundle of rights that are granted to a property owner upon purchase and receipt of a title. These rights can be transferred to other individuals for certain periods of time, but can be reclaimed at any time by the original owner. Exceptions can also be made for certain purposes such as allowing a utility company to have access to an area of a property that is not owned by the individual.

Despite having these rights, property owners are not free to do whatever they want with their land. They must pay taxes and abide by laws and homeowner association regulations. They must also abide by government zoning ordinances and maintain liability insurance coverage. Other limitations include being able to exclude people from their property or being unable to build structures that are too tall.

There are also many other aspects of real estate law that have to be considered in addition to these basic property rights. Real estate lawyers must be able to understand these intricacies to effectively advocate for their clients. These issues can include the transfer of ownership through titles such as quitclaim and warranty deeds, mortgages, and foreclosures. Other issues that can be regulated by real estate law include construction contracts, inspections and permits.

Regulation of Zoning and Land Use

Zoning laws and regulations establish the parameters for how property may be used within a municipality. These rules and restrictions often set specifications such as lot size, building height and floor area ratio (FAR). They also prohibit incompatible land uses and provide environmental protections by limiting construction within floodplains or wetlands.

Municipalities implement zoning laws to help them achieve their comprehensive plans for the city or town. These plans may include objectives such as preserving historic or natural resources, maintaining open spaces, creating housing opportunities and promoting community harmony. Zoning is an important tool for meeting these goals, as it helps to minimize noise and other nuisances that are disruptive to the public.

In addition to establishing land use guidelines, zoning laws also set out dimensional standards, such as minimum distances between buildings and property lines. Those who wish to build within a specific zoning district must apply for a zoning permit. This process may require that they attend a hearing to present their proposed plan. If permitted, the property owner will then be allowed to construct a structure in accordance with the zoning law.

Real estate law also encompasses other types of agreements that involve the land, such as easements and covenants. In the context of real estate transactions, it is important to have an attorney who understands zoning and land use issues. For example, most contracts of sale obligate the seller to convey a property subject to applicable zoning regulations. An inability to do so may result in litigation, a delay in closing and additional expenses.

Regulation of Construction

The right of property ownership extends to buildings and structures on the land, which is why real estate law also encompasses construction issues. These include laws that set standards for how buildings are constructed, e.g., whether they are to be a certain size or type, and requirements for obtaining permits and inspections. Real estate law also addresses the liability and insurance issues involved in construction projects, such as fires and accidents that may occur during building or renovation.

Lastly, real estate law includes the legalities of leasing and financing property. These laws establish the requirements and procedures that must be followed when purchasing or selling property, and they ensure that these transactions are legally valid.

In addition, real estate law covers the rights of individuals who use or occupy property as tenants. These rights are based on the terms of an occupancy agreement, which may be a lease or a license. The rights of occupants are often subject to strict requirements, such as the payment of rent and compliance with all local zoning regulations.

A lawyer who specializes in real estate law helps clients purchase or sell property, negotiate and draft contracts, and resolve disputes. They can also assist with zoning and land use issues, construction, and environmental compliance. They may work for real estate development companies, financial or lending institutions, and title companies. Some attorneys work in large firms, while others practice on their own or at small solo practices.

Liability and Insurance Issues

Real estate law encompasses a broad range of legal issues related to the purchase and sale of land. These issues include zoning, estate planning, property taxes and titles. Lawyers who specialize in real estate law are able to assist clients with these complex transactions. They are often involved in drafting and reviewing leases, sale agreements and mortgage documents. They may also be responsible for obtaining proper documentation for title transfer.

The practice of real estate law can be a lucrative career for attorneys who enjoy working with the public. Many clients trust real estate lawyers to guide them through complex and high-dollar property transactions. They are often the conduits for real estate deals that change people’s lives and their financial security.

One of the most common insurance-related issues for real estate attorneys involves liability claims. Alleged professional errors and omissions can cost members tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees alone. In the context of real estate, these allegations often relate to failure to disclose property features that could negatively impact the value of the property or cause damage to the buyers.

As a result of these risks, insurers have tightened up their underwriting and are more likely to reject submissions or require higher premiums for coverage. For example, some carriers have exited the habitational market in parts of California due to an increase in cases brought by tenants who allege that their rental properties are not up to state habitability standards.