Property Law: What Is It And Why Do We Need It?

handing over house
  • James Notaris

    CPA, ESQ, Legal Editor

  • Tyler Dikun

    Executive Editor

    In Brief:

  • The enforcement of property rights is an essential part of a functioning society.

  • There are several steps that prospective U.S. property owners have to go through in order to legally purchase property.

  • Legal scholars from all over the world believe that there is such thing as universal property.

Quick question: What gives you the right to claim ownership over your house? After all, you may have lived in your home for the last 20 years. You’ve raised your kids in the same house, run a small-business from your home-office, and filled your home with your dearest possessions. Owning a piece of property constitutes more than the memories you make on or in it. As with anything else, it all comes down to what the law is.

Property Law Explained:

The word “property” is a very broad term. There are generally considered to be three types of property:

  • Scarce physical resources (houses, cars, books, and cellphones)
  • Non-human creatures (dogs, cats, horses or birds)
  • Intellectual property (inventions, ideas, or words)

According to Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to property. When people own property, the have the right to possess, use, exclude, allow others to use, and use the property as collateral. Furthermore, surface rights dictate that a person has ownership of anything on or beneath the property as well. This means that any trees on your property or roots in the ground cannot be removed or altered without your explicit approval. 

Along with surface rights, ownership rights play an important part in property law. According to ownership rights, property owners have the right to make improvements to their properties. For example, you have the right to hire a contractor to build a new kitchen. In almost every jurisdiction of the United States, any and all improvements must first be permitted by your local government. Local restrictions include zoning laws, building codes, size, and configuration.



Does Universal Property Exist?

There has been much debate over the private ownership of  renewable resources. Many lawmakers believe that private corporations do not have the right to acquire ownership over renewable resources. One of the most infamous cases of corporate greed occured between 1999 and 2000 in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba. 

In September of 1999, the Bolivian government notified the people of Cochabamba that they had sold the city’s water rights to the Californian engineering giant Bechtel. Within a few weeks  of  the deal, Bechtel raised water rates by an average of 50%.

Some citizens reported they were even harassed if they were seen capturing rainwater. In what would become known as the Cochabamba Water War, thousands of protestors took to the streets of Cochabamba argue against the Bechtel deal. In 2006, Bechtel and its partners signed an agreement to abandon their lawsuit against the World Bank. The Cochabamba Water War brought to light an important question in world courts: can water be owned?



How Do You Legally Purchase Property In The U.S?

In order to claim a portion of land as your own, you’ll need to officially close on the land purchase. To do so, you’ll have to sign a land purchase agreement. This agreement will specify how much you’re paying for the land and how much money you’re putting down. The seller will have to sign the agreement as well.

The land contract you’ll sign will include everything that you and the seller agree to regarding the land purchase. Other documents you’ll have to review include state-based real estate forms, a closing statement that highlights all of the costs that stem from the sale and a deed that transfers the land’s title from the owner to you.



for sale sign in front of house

What Are The Two Types Of Property?

There are two different types of property: real property and personal property. Real property refers to land and things attached to said land like a home, building, garage, or agriculture. Personal property refers to personal possessions like a computer, a valuable baseball card, or a family heirloom. The transfer and ownership of property differs from state to state. 

Property lawyers generally practice transactional law. They must be masters in technical writing as even one word can dramatically alter property ownership. Property lawyers have an expert understanding of deeds, zoning laws, eminent domain, and easements.



Sign up for free tools.

Incredibly simple.

Your hear first.

Unsubscribe anytime.