What Is Real Estate Law?
Real estate law refers to a broad set of legal rules, regulations, and principles governing various aspects of residential, commercial, and industrial real estate.
“The term ‘real estate’ or ‘real property’ means the land plus anything growing on it, attached to it or erected on it, including man-made objects, such as buildings, structures, roads, sewers, and fences[.]”
– New York City Bar
The 3 basic areas of real estate law are:
- Land use
Real estate disputes often involve disagreements or conflicts related to rights, obligations, or breaches of contract in real estate matters.
Causes of Real Estate Law Conflicts and Lawsuits
Understanding some of the common underlying causes of real estate lawsuits can be helpful for individuals who buy, sell, and own property.
Common causes of real estate lawsuits include:
- Breach of contract: Real estate lawsuits often arise when one party fails to fulfill their obligations as outlined in a contract. Examples include incomplete sales or violations in rental agreements.
- Construction and contractor issues: Real estate lawsuits can result from construction defects, disputes with contractors, or substandard workmanship. If a newly constructed property has significant flaws that affect its value or habitability, the property owner may seek legal recourse against the builder, contractor, or subcontractors.
- Financing and mortgage: Disagreements related to financing and mortgages can lead to legal action. These disputes may involve loan terms, foreclosure proceedings, predatory lending practices, or allegations of fraudulent schemes.
- Homeowners association rules: A property owner and homeowners association may disagree about rules that the owner believes are unfair or too strict and refuses to follow.
- Landlord-tenant problems: Legal conflicts frequently arise between landlords and tenants. These can occur over non-payment of rent, eviction proceedings, breaches of lease agreements, personal injury, failure to maintain the property, or disputes over security deposits.
- Property disclosures and misrepresentation: Lawsuits can occur when sellers provide false information about the property or fail to disclose material defects.
- Title and ownership: Disagreements over property ownership, title defects, or competing claims can lead to litigation. These disputes may arise due to errors in the chain of title, undisclosed liens or encumbrances, or boundary conflicts.
- Zoning and land use: Conflicts can arise from violations of zoning regulations, land use restrictions, or building codes. Lawsuits may be filed over property use, development plans, setbacks, variances, or objections to certain structures or activities in a specific area.
Types of Real Estate Law Cases
Legal claims related to real estate law encompass a wide range of situations influenced by common law principles.
Some common types of real estate law cases are:
- Boundary disputes with neighbors
- Disputes involving the valuation of a home
- Illegal real estate fees
- Issues with second loans or refinancing
- Mortgage issues
- Problems involving public utilities
- Title insurance and property issues
An experienced real estate lawyer can help people dealing with these issues to pursue solutions or compensation through the legal system.
Who Needs a Real Estate Lawyer?
Anyone involved in real estate transactions and property matters can benefit from the expertise of a real estate lawyer.
Real estate lawyers possess specialized knowledge regarding property laws. They can provide valuable legal advice, negotiate contracts, handle disputes, and ensure their clients’ rights and interests are protected.
Individuals who may require the services of a real estate lawyer include:
- Buyers: Real estate buyers may seek legal advice to navigate complex purchase agreements, review documents, and ensure their legal rights are protected throughout the property transaction process.
- Contractors: Contractors may need legal help to negotiate contracts, comply with building regulations, and resolve construction-related disputes.
- Landowners: A lawyer can help with boundary disputes, easements, zoning regulations, and other legal concerns.
- Realtors: Real estate agents (realtors) may seek legal advice to help their clients comply with real estate laws and regulations.
- Sellers: A real estate lawyer can help with contract negotiations, review documents, and proactively prevent any potential legal issues.
If initial dispute-resolution methods prove unsuccessful, individuals may need to hire a real estate lawyer and file a real estate law claim.
A real estate law firm or lawyer can also help with estate planning, which allows a property owner to make plans for a family home or other real property after their death.
Tips for Avoiding Real Estate Problems
Here are some tips for all parties involved in real estate transactions on preventing real estate disputes and complying with real estate laws and regulations.
- Real estate sellers should disclose all defects and issues. Sellers have an obligation to reveal all defects and issues related to the property. They must provide potential home buyers with truthful and complete information.
- Real estate brokers should abide by the agent code of conduct. Real estate agents have duties toward their clients, and breaching these duties can result in real estate law claims. Some of these duties include fiduciary duty (acting in the client’s best interests) and confidentiality. Realtors who breach their duties face professional and legal consequences.
- Real estate buyers should get property inspections. An inspection by a licensed professional can help you verify that there are no property defects.
- Renters should follow their lease agreement. This includes making rent payments on time, maintaining the rented property in good condition, and following any rules or restrictions outlined in the lease.
- Landlords should perform all duties and conform to local government ordinances. This includes performing property maintenance and repairs and providing required services to tenants.
Resolving Real Estate Law Disputes
If you aren’t able to resolve a real estate dispute on your own, you may find yourself involved in a real estate lawsuit. Understanding what to expect can help you navigate the legal process more effectively.
Here are the stages that these disputes typically go through.
Before going to court, parties in a real estate dispute often attempt mediation. It’s a voluntary process where a neutral mediator helps facilitate discussions to reach a resolution outside of court. Mediation promotes open communication, compromise, and potential settlement, allowing parties to have more control over the outcome of their situation while saving time and money.
If mediation fails, parties may pursue arbitration instead of a court trial. Arbitration involves presenting the case to neutral arbitrators who make a binding decision. This is a less formal process than a trial but still allows for evidence and arguments. The arbitrator’s decision is typically final and enforceable.
Arbitration may be mandatory based on contract agreements or local laws.
If mediation and arbitration are unsuccessful, the real estate claim proceeds to court. The party suing files a formal complaint. During litigation, both parties argue their case and present evidence and witnesses before a judge or jury. The court evaluates the evidence, applies the principles of real estate law, and makes a final decision.
Award or Remedy
A real estate lawsuit can lead to a monetary award or other remedy like an injunction (a court order to compel or stop an action). The court considers factors like local and state laws, the nature of the dispute, and evidence to determine an appropriate remedy.
While a real estate lawyer is not always needed for mediation, they can be present or you can consult one beforehand. These legal professionals are often involved in arbitration and highly recommended if your case lands in court.
Get Help From a Real Estate Lawyer
Working with a real estate lawyer offers several advantages. They bring legal expertise, assistance in dispute resolution, litigation skills, and peace of mind to the table.
Whether you’re a lender or someone involved in residential real estate, these lawyers ensure your interests are protected.
To find a real estate lawyer near you, you can ask family and friends for recommendations. You can also ask your real estate agent, who has likely worked with trusted real estate lawyers in the past.
Law of Real Estate FAQs
What is real estate law in the United States?
American real estate law is a broad area of law that encompasses all legal issues that pertain to the act of buying, selling, and owning real estate property and land.
Some topics that fall under the category of real estate law include landlord and tenant rights, environmental protection, property taxes, and commercial real estate zoning.
What are the most common real estate disputes?
The most common real estate disputes involve boundary disputes, title search issues, landlord-tenant conflicts, and property defects that an owner has failed to disclose.
What is commercial real estate law?
Commercial real estate law refers to the laws governing real estate use, ownership, and sale for business purposes or to generate income. This includes contract negotiations, zoning and land use restrictions, and environmental law issues.
What is real estate contract law?
Real estate contract law refers to the laws surrounding the purchase, sale, or transfer of real estate. Real estate contracts are legally binding written documents that detail the obligations of both the property buyer and seller.
What is real estate development law?
Real estate development law deals with making improvements to a building or other real property to boost its value. It includes areas of the law like contract law, environmental law, tax law, and zoning.
Can you resolve a real estate dispute without a lawyer?
Yes, it’s possible to resolve a real estate dispute without a lawyer. Sometimes people are able to resolve these disputes through negotiation, mediation, or other alternative dispute resolution methods.
However, it is in your best interest to work with an experienced real estate lawyer. An attorney can protect your legal rights and navigate the complexities of real estate law on your behalf.
How do you know if you should file a real estate lawsuit?
If negotiation or mediation fails to resolve your real estate law dispute, a lawsuit may be necessary. A real estate lawyer can explain your legal options, file the lawsuit for you, and represent you in court if necessary.