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How to Become an Informed and Knowledgeable Property Owner

If you are a property owner who wants to know the extent of your ownership rights, you can start by acquainting yourself with the core documents that set forth those rights.  While you may not understand these documents as fully or completely as an attorney, there is still much you can learn by a careful review. Not only will these documents give you a basic comprehension of your obligations and rights as a property owner, they will also put you in a better position to focus your questions should you need to consult with a property rights lawyer.

There are a variety of documents where important information about ownership rights can be found. Some of the most common ones include the deed, the deed of trust, easement and encumbrance documents, survey and boundary documents, and site plan and plat documents. Many of these documents may be summarized in what is called a title abstract or a title commitment.

If you don’t have copies of these documents, you can generally obtain them by contacting your title insurance company. Other documents may require a visit to the Clerk and Recorder’s Office, Recorder of Deeds, the County Recorder’s Office, or another government office where real estate records are generally housed. Finally, some of these documents may even be available online.

Information You Can Get from the Deed

In the actual deed, you will find basic information regarding how the title to the property is held, the date when the actual conveyance was made, and a description of the property conveyed. The deed will also identify the name of the grantor (or seller) of the property.

Information from Other Title Documents 

Title documents will also set forth what are called deed restrictions, deed reservations or other limitations or exceptions to an owner’s title. Simply put, these are interesting that other parties may have in the property which could impact the owner’s full use and enjoyment of the property. Below are a few of the most common limitations on an owner’s title:

Liens

A lien is a claim against the property that also acts as collateral for a debt. Tax and mortgage liens are the most common. If an owner has been sued for a sum of money and a court has entered a judgment against the owner, it will be filed against the property as a judgment lien.

Easements

An easement is an interest in property that gives the beneficiary the right to use the property for a specific use or purpose. The scope and nature of the easement is generally defined by its written terms. Easements can either have minimal impacts on the property they encumber or extensive impacts, depending upon the terms.

Encroachments

An encroachment occurs when a neighbor builds something either on or overhanging another’s property, such as a building, a fence or some other physical structure.  An encroachment is a problem because it impedes the use of the property for the person whose land is being encroached upon. Some encroachments may not show up in the title documents but can be determined based on thorough inspection of the property.

Information You Can Get from the Land Use or Planning Department

One final place where documents relevant to an owner’s interests and rights in property can be found is the local land use, planning or building department. There an owner will be able to locate information regarding:

  • How the property is currently zoned
  • How the property is platted, mapped, and subdivided
  • What roads and streets serve the property
  • What types of utilities serve the property and where they are located
  • Special assessments or fees that may be charged against the property
  • Long-term development plans or masterplans for the area that may impact how the property can be used or developed
  • Major public or private projects that are anticipated in the area where the property is located which may also impact the property’s use and development potential

Wrap Up

Property owners who have a basic knowledge and understanding of their ownership rights are in a far stronger position to defend and protect them than those that do not possess such knowledge. When your property rights are being threatened or questioned, make sure you are prepared to mount a defense, by having reviewed the core documents that set forth your ownership rights and obligations

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