In the real estate industry, the legal concept of land encompasses more than just the ground that we see or that comprises a parcel of property. Land includes everything natural beneath and above the surface. The operative term here is "natural"; but the concept of land need not be completely tangible.

It may be helpful to view land as an inverted pyramid extending from the center of the earth and projecting outwards into the atmosphere. Land includes, but is not necessarily limited to the following elements:

  • Surface ground. This is what most people think of when they hear the term "land," but it's obviously much more.
  • Subsurface soil and water. Landowners have traditionally owned the water underneath their land surface and can access it at will. However, many local governments and new regulations have begun to exercise control over aquifers and other subsurface water sources.
  • Minerals, oil and gas. This is an extension of subsurface land rights. These elements are prime commodities and can give the property owner additional income-if that owner still controls the rights to those subsurface elements. For more information, see the "Subsurface Rights" article.
  • Airspace above the ground. Believe it or not, air space is part of real estate. For example, your neighbor cannot build an overhanging bay window that extends into your property's air space. An increasingly more common discussion of air space involve condominiums, in which the condo owner often only owns the air space within their units—but not the walls, floors or ceilings. For more information, see the "Air Rights" article.
  • Permanently attached natural elements (trees, boulders and vegetation). The law does differentiate between permanent vegetation and annual crops. Trees, grass and perennials are called "fructus naturales" and are considered part of larger real estate. Planted annuals and crops are called "fructus industrials" and are considered personal property. For more information, see the "All About Fixtures"


The concept of personal property, as opposed to real property, will discussed later in this article. As you can see, however, the land can contain both real property and personal property. Ownership of land can also be further divided into different facets-which allow for separate uses and manners of possession.

Example: Ownership of Land

Sally owns a ranch. She learns that there may be precious minerals under her land. She would like to take advantage of this fact, without jeopardizing her ranch operations. So, Sally sells the rights to the mineral under her land without surrendering her land. The mining company that purchases the mineral rights is allowed to mine for it, within strict limits, while Sally is free to continue with her ranch operations.

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Real Estate 101

Real Estate 101

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