Real Estate: Ownership Rights for Natural Resources

Real Estate: Ownership Rights for Natural Resources

Aside from the standard bundle of rights that comes with real estate ownership, there are a few more rights you need to be aware of. They mostly involve natural resources of the property and there is a good chance you’ll see some questions about these rights on the real estate test.

Water Rights: Three Types

Riparian Rights

The first type of water rights is riparian rights. These rights come with owning real estate along a body of water like a stream, river, or lake. Although ownership of land along the water typically allows things like access and recreational use, the owner cannot contaminate or change the natural flow of the water.

Usufructary Rights

Usufructuary rights, or water use rights, are the second type of water rights. These rights do allow the owner to divert water from a river for a special purpose, such as irrigation, and are more common in western states.

Littoral Rights

The third water right is known as a littoral right. This right is usually granted to people owning land bordering large bodies of water, like a large lake, bay, or sea. Littoral rights state that the real estate owner has unrestricted ownership and use of the land up to the average high water mark. Beyond that, the body of water belongs to the government. These rights automatically transfer with land ownership.

Air Rights

Owners of real estate also have limited rights to the airspace above their property. They may use this space as they please as long as it abides by zoning laws and does not interfere with air traffic. For example, you may own a building in an urban area that is five stories tall but falls within an area zoned for buildings up to ten stories tall. You have the right to either build five more stories on your building or sell the air rights to someone else who would then build on top of your building. You maintain ownership of the original five stories while the buyer owns the top five they built after purchasing the air rights.

Surface Rights

Surface rights allow you to do whatever you please on the land you purchased so long as you abide by the law. Surface rights include improving the land in many ways from building structures to farming.

Mineral and Subsurface Rights

Real estate ownership comes with the ownership of the land below the surface of the ground. You have the right to sell access to a utility company running pipes or lines underground. This also, more often than not, includes mineral rights. These rights allow landowners to extract minerals from the ground. Today, this most often includes oil and gas. Often, a landowner will sign a lease with a mining company that allows the company to alter the land if necessary to extract the resources. Sometimes, in places where minerals are abundant, people may sell their property but retain the mineral rights.

This is simply a quick overview of these other real estate rights. Be sure to revisit any topics you feel unsure of and make sure you can easily define and differentiate these rights. Good luck!

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