Real Estate Law

By: LawInfo

The purchase and use of land have deep political and philosophical underpinnings that go back to the country's formation. Real estate law casts a wide, intricate legal net, incorporating federal, state and local statutes. A real estate attorney may advise on many different issues, including:

  • real estate transactions
  • leases
  • zoning issues
  • landlord-tenant law
  • foreclosures
  • homeowners associations

Major Federal Real Estate Laws

There are many federal laws governing real estate in the United States. A few major pieces of legislation have a large impact on real estate transactions:

  • The Truth in Lending and the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Acts, or TILA and RESPA, outline the requirements for mortgage lenders regarding their disclosure of settlement costs to borrowers. These acts also mandate disclosures of interest rates, cancellations and dispute resolution procedures.
  • The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act gives rights to borrowers to initiate civil lawsuits when lenders have acted unfairly, causing monetary harm.
  • The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on a person's protected status for housing, including in selling, purchasing, renting and leasing.

Landlord-Tenant Law

Landlord-tenant law governs how residential and commercial properties are leased between landlords and tenants. Each state has its own laws about the particular facets of leases in their jurisdictions, but some overarching rules apply across the country.

For instance, the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment provides that all tenants have the right to enjoy their leased or rented property free from interference by their landlords.

The warranty of habitability further provides that rented or leased premises are habitable, which generally means that it has running water, heat, has no pests and has no exposed wires. If a landlord fails to keep a property in a habitable condition, the idea of constructive eviction comes into play. If it applies, the tenant has the right to refuse to pay rent until adequate repairs are completed.

Foreclosure Actions

Another major area of real estate law involves actions in foreclosure. Foreclosure proceedings may be initiated by a lender against a property if the borrower defaults on their required mortgage payments.

Foreclosure actions must follow specific legal procedures. In many cases, it is possible for people to act in a way to stop a foreclosure proceeding, including with certain chapters of bankruptcy, negotiating with the lender, short sales, loan modifications and others. Some lawyers concentrate their entire real estate practice solely in the area of foreclosure litigation.

Purchasing Residential Real Estate

Many people will purchase a home in their lives. The transaction may be the largest financial purchase they may ever make. Real estate law governs each step of the process, and it is meant to protect their financial interests during and after the transaction itself. There are laws governing the mortgage qualification process, including lender disclosures, buyer disclosures and other matters.

Title insurance, which is normally a requirement when purchasing property, helps to protect the buyer and the lender against defects in title. Laws regarding seller disclosures are in place so that buyers understand any existing defects, such as lead paint or other hazards. Escrow accounts are used property changes hands to protect buyer and seller.  Buyers typically receive settlement statements from their escrow accounts when the property is sold. Lenders must provide annual statements itemizing how their payments have been applied.

There are many other areas covered by real estate law. A real estate lawyer may accept clients in multiple different areas of real estate law, or may instead focus on certain areas within the broader category. Property rights are intertwined with constitutional rights, both federally and within states. As you can see, real estate law is a complicated, broad area of the law.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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