Understanding what classes you will encounter in your first year of law school will give you the one-up on the rest of your classmates. You do not need a full, in-depth understanding about what these classes entail, especially since each law school follows a different curriculum. However, it is a good idea to have an overview of each course so you feel comfortable on your first day and comprehend the context of this subject of law. One of the first classes you encounter as a 1L is Property.
Types of Property
When most people think of property, they think of houses. However, property in a legal sense is much more than that. There are three main types of property: real, personal, and intellectual. Personal property are the tangible items that you own. Essentially everything that you can touch and move are considered “personal property.” Intellectual property, on the other hand, is not tangible at all. These are digital or artificial pieces of property that individuals can claim they own. Real property refers to the typical “property” idea, land and houses. Real property will be the focus of your 1L course, so the rest of this guide namely applies to this form.
Sticks in the Bundle
My professor was notorious for saying this phrase 30 times a day during lecture. “Sticks in the Bundle” refer to the interests one might have in property. The person who holds title to the property has an ownership interest and has the right to exclude people from his/her property. Normally, the owner also has possession of the property as well, but they may grant this interest to another while still retaining ownership. To make Property much easier for yourself, keep track of where the “sticks” are so you know who has what kind of interest in the subject property.
There are two main types of estates: freehold and non-freehold. Freehold estates mean the individual has an absolute right to the property and has seisin. The main freehold estate is called a Fee Simple Absolute. An individual with an FSA normally has all the sticks in the bundle and has a right to the property indefinitely. However, an FSA can be changed into a Defeasible Fee Simple, meaning an estate that is defeasible upon the happening of some event. For a Fee Simple Determinable estate, the grantor puts a condition on deed/grant, if broken, results in the automatic forfeiture of the estate. In Fee Simple Subject to Condition Subsequent, the grantor puts conditions on the deed/grant, which, if broken, can result in reversion, but it is up to the grantor. Fee Simple Subject to an Executory Interest occur when the grantor puts the interest in the hands of a 3rd party.
Non-Freehold Estates deal with tenancy by certain terms, normally referred to as Landlord-Tenant agreements. The lease gives the tenant a right to possess and occupy the land, with consent from the landlord, creating privity of estate and privity of contract. There are three main covenant in a lease: 1) put the tenant in possession at the beginning of the lease, 2) the tenant will have quiet enjoyment of the property, and 3) the premises will be up to code and the landlord will repair any defects (warranty for fitness of purpose and habitability). Since these are covenants of the lease and there is privity of contract, the landlord is not allowed to breach these promises. However, if the landlord does, the tenant is allowed to not perform (meaning withhold rent).
Property is a great way to learn about how to buy a house and go through the process of obtaining property. At the end or “closing”, a deed must be created. The requirements for a deed are: grantor and grantee names, the conveying property is described, the instrument is signed by the grantor, it is notarized (Only where Register of Deeds requires before accepting/recording), there is a witness, words indicating intent to convey: “give,” “transfer,” “deed over” and the recorded instrument does not list consideration. There are also different types of deeds. A Warranty Deed includes three warranties: Warranty of Seisin, Warranty Against Encumbrances and Warranty of Quiet Enjoyment. A Quit Claim Deed grants whatever the grantor has, with no assurances. However, you are always able (and really, really should) obtain some type of title assurance or title insurance to ensure you are actually getting the property you think you are.
It doesn’t have to be Fee Simple Absolute(ly) hard
Property can be a challenging class for 1Ls. Not only is there a lot to remember, but Property utilizes old legal jargon that confuses students causing many people to struggle to grasp every aspect of the course. Things will definitely be challenging at first (especially if it is your first semester!) but as long as you work hard, Property will be like nothing. If you need help understanding, get tutoring or purchase a supplement in order to fully grasp this difficult subject.
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