Title Estates in Land

Although America's allodial system of real estate law allows full individual ownership of real property, not all property owners have such full ownership. For just as land may be separated into surface, air rights, sub-surface mineral rights and even owner/co-owner portions, the ownership of the real property may also be divided into separate levels of ownership.

For example, an apartment lease effectively creates two owners for the subject unit. The tenant has a temporary and limited ownership interest, while the property owner has the superior, indefinite ownership interest. With the lease, the landlord compromises his ownership a little in favor of the tenant.

Such varying ownership interests in land are called estates. An estate refers to the type, degree, nature, duration, level and extent of ownership interest that a person (natural or artificial) can have in real property. In fact, the term real estate actually refers to ownership of land and its improvements.

The U.S. allodial system categorizes estates into two general categories, which are then further subdivided into subcategories and even sub-subcategories:

  • Freehold estates. An estate of indefinite length is called freehold. As explained below, freehold estates are divided into fee simple and life estates, depending on whether they are inheritable estates.
  • Leasehold estates. Unlike and less than freehold estates, leasehold estates are for a definite term. As explained below, the four basic types of leasehold estates are estate for years, periodic estate, estate at will and estate at sufferance.

The type of estate that a person has in a parcel of property will affect that person's bundle of ownership rights to a property. It can especially limit what that person can do with the property and how (if at all) that person can dispose, enjoy, possess or control that property.

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