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  #1  
Old 03-07-2012, 02:17 PM
robert_columbia robert_columbia is offline
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What legally stops me from building an arbitrarily tall building on my land?

Suppose I have some land out in the desert or something. I decide I want to build a Tower of Babel II/space elevator. Ignoring money, time, and technology (e.g. building materials) for a moment, are there any LEGAL issues that I am likely to encounter when building a building of arbitrary height on my own property?

I would guess that at least some areas might deny a building permit over a certain height or a building that they do not feel is sufficiently safe. I understand that some areas may have legislative caps on building height.

If I start getting REALLY high, could the FAA or NASA (or the equivalent agency in another country) theoretically exercise jurisdiction and say that even though the County in which I am building does not have any legal restrictions on building height, my building is interfering with air traffic navigation or space activities and that it must be taken down or modified?

Again, we are concentrating on legal issues related to extremely tall buildings rather than practical matters. I have a few thousand tons of unobtainium down here in my basement to take care of the practical matters.
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  #2  
Old 03-07-2012, 02:22 PM
Una Persson Una Persson is offline
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In my State a Licensed Professional Engineer or Architect must sign off on any design which is more than 1 story, even if it's entirely for your own use on your own property. Above 3 stories or the equivalent height, you need special permitting from the county above and beyond professional certification. YMMV.

Last edited by Una Persson; 03-07-2012 at 02:23 PM..
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  #3  
Old 03-07-2012, 02:46 PM
VOW VOW is offline
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TECHNICALLY, when you own a piece of land in the US, you own it from the center of the earth to the heavens above.

Limitations are boundless, though. Most land sold these days does not include mineral rights, which cuts down on your underground ownership.

If you are in an unincorporated area, you are under the authority of the County, and believe me, the County will have something to say about anything you wish to build. If you are within City limits, then you have to make the City happy before you make the County happy. Once all the local governments are satisfied, the State can always have something to say, as well. And THEN you can worry about architectural standards, Uniform Building Codes, and anything else you can dream up.

Once you build your Space Elevator, your neighbors will have something to say as to how the height of your structure limits their ability to enjoy the use of their properties.

And a word to the adventurous souls who wish to do whatever they damn well please, thinking the County, et al, can mind their own damned business: Inspectors from the Assessor's Office actually toodle around throughout the County, looking for people who may have unpermitted work done. The Assessor wants to TAX your land and everything on or under it, and if you try to sneak something by, those inspectors are gonna zero in on unassessed improvements.


~VOW
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  #4  
Old 03-07-2012, 02:51 PM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is offline
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Some places have local ordinances that prohibit buildings over a certain height, whether they're safe or not.


Someone built condos taller than the ordinances allowed in Seaside Park, N.J., apparently hoping that, if called on it, they'd be able to keep them as a fait accompli. It didn't work out that way. the city denied the request to let them be sold, as they were over the legal height, and they sat empty for a couple of years before being bulldozed. Now the ground is a vacant lot there.
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  #5  
Old 03-07-2012, 03:57 PM
septimus septimus is online now
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Hijacks are not permitted in GQ. Had you posted in MPSIMS I'd mention
SPOILER:
... a 14-story luxury hotel in Bangkok that will be demolished because the wrong officials were bribed it's too tall.
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  #6  
Old 03-07-2012, 04:14 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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One of my uncles had his entire neighborhood re-surveyed at his own expense to re-define "ground level", so the house he was building would come in a half-inch within the limit of "height above ground level". I think in his case it was a city regulation he was dealing with.
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  #7  
Old 03-07-2012, 05:11 PM
Tom Tildrum Tom Tildrum is online now
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If I'm reading these regulations right, the FAA establishes height restrictions that require notice and permits above certain limits. I got lost in the descriptions of "imaginary surfaces," though, so I can't really say what those limits are.
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Old 03-07-2012, 07:13 PM
John DiFool John DiFool is offline
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Originally Posted by septimus View Post
Hijacks are not permitted in GQ. Had you posted in MPSIMS I'd mention
SPOILER:
... a 14-story luxury hotel in Bangkok that will be demolished because the wrong officials were bribed it's too tall.
?? Deleted sock post?
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  #9  
Old 03-07-2012, 07:26 PM
Mahaloth Mahaloth is offline
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I swear Cecil has an article on this(something about how high above your house you own). I could only find this one about no-flight zones, though.
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  #10  
Old 03-07-2012, 09:51 PM
The Second Stone The Second Stone is offline
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Originally Posted by VOW View Post

And a word to the adventurous souls who wish to do whatever they damn well please, thinking the County, et al, can mind their own damned business: Inspectors from the Assessor's Office actually toodle around throughout the County, looking for people who may have unpermitted work done. The Assessor wants to TAX your land and everything on or under it, and if you try to sneak something by, those inspectors are gonna zero in on unassessed improvements.


~VOW
They also use aerial photography to compare old photos to new photos to cover a lot of ground quicker.
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  #11  
Old 03-07-2012, 10:08 PM
Notassmartasithought Notassmartasithought is offline
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In general, courts have affirmed that federal, state, and local governments have the right to make reasonable restrictions on the development of real property. That's zoning laws, air safety regulations, etc. Generally they have to do with safety or the protection of neighboring property values. Can't build a tower in the line of a runway, can't put a junkyard on 3 vacant acres in a generally residential neighborhood, etc. I've heard that Houston, Texas has very limited or no zoning regulations. Never been there, so I've no idea whether it's development is so different from other city's.

There may be some land parcels in unincorporated areas where neither the state or the feds have a reasonable interest. Hard to find, though.
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  #12  
Old 03-07-2012, 10:30 PM
Sunspace Sunspace is offline
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I knew someone who built a ham-radio antenna on their hilltop property. When we went there, I was expecting a glorified TV tower. What greeted me was a professionally-built 200-foot guyed mast complete with blinking red aircraft warning lights. So obviously structures of quite normal heights are regulated.
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  #13  
Old 03-07-2012, 11:00 PM
VOW VOW is offline
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Originally Posted by Notassmartasithought View Post
There may be some land parcels in unincorporated areas where neither the state or the feds have a reasonable interest. Hard to find, though.
Unincorporated land is in the jurisdiction of the County. ALL LAND, throughout the United States, has a legal description, and the County Assessor's office knows where it is, has assigned it a parcel number, and the land gets a tax bill every year.

If the land is part of a military installation, if it is a County highway, a State highway, a freeway, or a municipal street, if it is an Indian reservation, or it is a railroad, it has an exemption, but it still has a legal description, and the Assessor's office knows about it.

And there's gonna be some laws, rules, or restrictions.


~VOW
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  #14  
Old 03-07-2012, 11:39 PM
Snnipe 70E Snnipe 70E is offline
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Originally Posted by robert_columbia View Post
If I start getting REALLY high, could the FAA or NASA (or the equivalent agency in another country) theoretically exercise jurisdiction and say that even though the County in which I am building does not have any legal restrictions on building height, my building is interfering with air traffic navigation or space activities and that it must be taken down or modified?

Again, we are concentrating on legal issues related to extremely tall buildings rather than practical matters. I have a few thousand tons of unobtainium down here in my basement to take care of the practical matters.

The former mayor of San Jose pland on building the new silly hall higher than the FAA restrictions were. Figured he could tell the FAA go stuff it. As the building was being built before it was topped out he found out different. So now the dome that was going to be on the top of the building sits on the ground beside the building.
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  #15  
Old 03-08-2012, 06:18 PM
Senegoid Senegoid is offline
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Originally Posted by robert_columbia View Post
Again, we are concentrating on legal issues related to extremely tall buildings rather than practical matters. I have a few thousand tons of unobtainium down here in my basement to take care of the practical matters.
As a practical matter, a sufficiently liberal application of some of that unobtainium can buy you all the laws, regulations, permits, etc., that you will need.

I have a cousin into real estate. He puts it this way: You never really own land. What you own is a bundle or package of specific rights to that land. That is how it happens, in many variations, that you can "own" land yet have some restrictions on your use of that land (whether it be lack of mineral rights, height limits, CCR's of all sorts, etc.): Trace the lineage back, and you'll find that somewhere, someone sold someone a selection of rights to the property while keeping some other selected rights to himself. Trace it far enough back (like, to original land grants) and you can find that things like zoning regulations rely on specific rights to the land that were NEVER privately owned.
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  #16  
Old 03-08-2012, 07:24 PM
Uber_the_Goober Uber_the_Goober is offline
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Originally Posted by VOW View Post
<snip>

if it is an Indian reservation, or it is a railroad, it has an exemption, but it still has a legal description, and the Assessor's office knows about it.

And there's gonna be some laws, rules, or restrictions.


~VOW
So what we're getting at here is that I, the person who "purchased" some land, can't do much interesting stuff. But the "indians" or "native americans" (depending on your level of political correctness) can build whatever they damn well please whenever whereever and so on and so forth?

Sweet...now to transfer some of that unobtanium to the local indian reservation and convince them to build a tower to the moon.
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Old 03-08-2012, 11:46 PM
VOW VOW is offline
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Originally Posted by Senegoid View Post
Trace it far enough back (like, to original land grants) and you can find that things like zoning regulations rely on specific rights to the land that were NEVER privately owned.
I cannot be absolutely positive, but the zoning regulations and laws of municipalities may have been granted by the private owners whenever the city became incorporated.

When a city is incorporated, it promises people certain benefits to being within the city. Typically, these benefits include streets, schools, utilities, and law enforcement. If the majority of residents vote for incorporation, then all properties within the city limits forfeit certain rights.

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

If you follow the pedigree of title back to the government land grants, yes, those original owners could pretty much do anything, as long as they satisfied the requirements of obtaining the grant. Those requirements usually consisted of farming the land for a certain number of years, and then the title would be granted to them.

Today in the United States, people can still obtain government land grants, for mining purposes. But you cannot submit and application and then just move to the land and do as you please. You must actually mine the land for a certain number of years before the land will become yours.

A lot of that land that is still available is out in the California desert. You probably could mine something of value, but you'd be damned miserable doing it!

My point is, even with the original land grants, there were STILL restrictions. Once the States were granted Statehood, there were even more restrictions. As the States grew, and cities and counties were established, the list of restrictions grew as well.


~VOW
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  #18  
Old 03-09-2012, 09:33 PM
Senegoid Senegoid is offline
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Originally Posted by VOW View Post
I cannot be absolutely positive, but the zoning regulations and laws of municipalities may have been granted by the private owners whenever the city became incorporated.

<snip>

~VOW
Not disputing any of this. But my larger point was (and I think you're not disputing it either), that one never really owns the land per se -- One merely owns a bundle of rights. And those rights are severable, meaning they could separately be bought, sold, taxed, deeded over to the city via incorporation vote, etc.
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  #19  
Old 03-11-2012, 01:51 AM
Mr Downtown Mr Downtown is offline
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Originally Posted by robert_columbia View Post
are there any LEGAL issues that I am likely to encounter when building a building of arbitrary height on my own property?
Most counties have zoning ordinances, but often height limits will be expressed in terms of a multiple of the area of your property. For instance, if you own 10,000 square feet, you may build a building of 5000 square feet total, which would be a Floor-Area Ratio of 0.5. Chances are the zoning ordinance also has absolute height restrictions for most zones, but perhaps not Agricultural. However, many counties in the West do not have zoning, and a couple of states (I think) still don't allow counties to exercise zoning powers. There are also the aforementioned Indian reservations.

Leaving that aside, your main problem in the US will be the presumption that any structure over 2000 feet above surrounding ground level is a hazard to avigation.

The ancient common-law rule was that a property owner owned from the center of the earth to the heavens: Cujus est solum ejus est usque ad coelum. However, at the end of World War II, the Supreme Court decided U.S. v. Causby, 328 U.S. 256 (1946), giving the federal government control over airspace needed for avigation. That came to mean all airspace above 2000 feet, and even lower altitudes near airports.

In 1965, seeing an increasing number of applications for radio masts more than 2000 feet high, the FAA promulgated this federal regulation:

14 CFR 77.13

(c) A proposed structure or an alteration to an existing structure that exceeds 2,000 feet in height above the ground will be presumed to be a hazard to air navigation and to result in an inefficient utilization of airspace and the applicant has the burden of overcoming that presumption. Each notice submitted under the pertinent provisions of this part 77 proposing a structure in excess of 2,000 feet above ground, or an alteration that will make an existing structure exceed that height, must contain a detailed showing, directed to meeting this burden. Only in exceptional cases, where the FAA concludes that a clear and compelling showing has been made that it would not result in an inefficient utilization of the airspace and would not result in a hazard to air navigation, will a determination of no hazard be issued.


As far as I can determine only one mast higher than 2000 feet has been approved since this rule was adopted, presumably on a showing of engineering necessity due to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

Last edited by Mr Downtown; 03-11-2012 at 01:52 AM..
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  #20  
Old 03-12-2012, 01:53 PM
Quercus Quercus is offline
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Originally Posted by echo6160 View Post
So what we're getting at here is that I, the person who "purchased" some land, can't do much interesting stuff. But the "indians" or "native americans" (depending on your level of political correctness) can build whatever they damn well please whenever whereever and so on and so forth?

Sweet...now to transfer some of that unobtanium to the local indian reservation and convince them to build a tower to the moon.
I'm no expert in Real Estate law, but I don't think that reserved inherited rights is the best way to look at building codes. In the U.S. the state (and through state laws, the county or city) can forbid you to do pretty much anything (within the limits of the state and federal constitution), and the federal gov't can tell you what to do in anything that affects interstate commerce (hence the FAA can get involved). Just as the state can forbid you from killing someone or practicing medicine without a license, it can forbid you from erecting a large building without an approved building permit, and can require fire marshall approval for any building open to the public, and so on. Nothing to do with who owned the land when, it's just a state law that's applicable in defined places.
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  #21  
Old 03-12-2012, 03:19 PM
VOW VOW is offline
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Just as the state can forbid you from killing someone or practicing medicine without a license, it can forbid you from erecting a large building without an approved building permit, and can require fire marshall approval for any building open to the public, and so on. Nothing to do with who owned the land when, it's just a state law that's applicable in defined places.
The illegality of murder or practicing quack medicine are examples of the government imposing restrictions on personal ACTIONS.

That's different from real property.

The building permit, fire marshal inspection, setbacks, right-of-way, utilities, yadda yadda yadda, are possible because at one time, the property owners (meaning the voters) waived those rights in order to achieve Statehood or incorporation.

There's a slight difference between the two.


~VOW
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Old 03-12-2012, 03:52 PM
barbitu8 barbitu8 is offline
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Limitations are boundless, though. Most land sold these days does not include mineral rights, which cuts down on your underground ownership.~VOW
I don't know what jurisdiction you are referring to but the general rule is when a parcel of land is sold it includes all the mineral rights, unless specifically excluded.
Quote:
I cannot be absolutely positive, but the zoning regulations and laws of municipalities may have been granted by the private owners whenever the city became incorporated.
This is not entirely accurate. Owners don't grant a municipality zoning regulations. Zoning regulations are determined by the city council (or whatever political body a municipality has to enact regulations). A municipality has this power under its police powers. A municipality will publish a notice concerning any proposed changes to zoning, use, etc.
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  #23  
Old 03-12-2012, 05:52 PM
Mr Downtown Mr Downtown is offline
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The Indians don't have special rights per se. The fact that land was once owned or is now owned by Indians is not relevant. The reason Indian reservations are different is that they're not subject to the land-use regulations imposed by county governments. They are separate nations, who promulgate their own land-use regulations.
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  #24  
Old 03-12-2012, 10:12 PM
VOW VOW is offline
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I don't know what jurisdiction you are referring to but the general rule is when a parcel of land is sold it includes all the mineral rights, unless specifically excluded.
I'm going to stick my neck out with a WAG and say lots in most subdivisions or parcel maps do NOT include mineral rights. If a person wants to buy an entire section (640 acres) in the middle of Wyoming, perhaps the mineral rights would still be available with the land. Speculators and mining companies did a bang up job of sweeping the United States years ago, buying up mineral rights, and hung onto them with hopes that one day, SOMETHING would be found. It was a cheap investment for them: they could hold onto the mineral rights forever, waiting for the right moment.

Quote:
Originally Posted by barbitu8 View Post
This is not entirely accurate. Owners don't grant a municipality zoning regulations. Zoning regulations are determined by the city council (or whatever political body a municipality has to enact regulations). A municipality has this power under its police powers. A municipality will publish a notice concerning any proposed changes to zoning, use, etc.
I didn't word my response correctly. I gave a Reader's Digest condensed version of how a municipality obtains its authority. The property owners (voters) approve the incorporation of the municipality. Then the municipality, by the authority of its operation for the greater good, will enact laws and ordinances for the public good. Zoning and permits fall into this category. What many do not realize is that the requirement of permits to do just about anything isn't necessarily a law to protect people from shoddy workmanship. Permits are a DANDY way for a city or a county to RAISE MONEY.


~VOW
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Old 03-13-2012, 12:30 AM
Mr Downtown Mr Downtown is offline
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Originally Posted by VOW View Post
I'm going to stick my neck out with a WAG and say lots in most subdivisions or parcel maps do NOT include mineral rights.
I think you're wrong. I think it's very uncommon for ordinary residential building lots to not include the mineral rights. Homeowners all over the Ft. Worth area have been busily selling the mineral rights under their subdivisions since the Barnett Shale natural gas formation was discovered a decade ago. These are subdivisions created since 1980—in Texas.

Last edited by Mr Downtown; 03-13-2012 at 12:32 AM..
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  #26  
Old 03-13-2012, 01:33 AM
VOW VOW is offline
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To Mr Downtown:

I'll qualify my statement and say at least in my experience with California, most lots do not include mineral rights.

Here's what to look for:

Unless you are talking a small parcel map, two or three lots or so, most subdivisions are several pages of maps, showing all the lots, the streets, corner monuments, distances and bearings. The first sheet of this stack of pages has a lot of written stuff, with signatures of the owners, the developers, the president, vice president, and secretary of the corporation, the acceptance by the Board of Supervisors, and so forth.

There will also be an accounting of any recorded maps used in the design of the subdivision. There will be a description of any easements, and a dedication of streets to the public right-of-way.

And there will usually be a statement that mineral rights have been excluded from the lots.


~VOW
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Old 03-13-2012, 04:38 AM
barbitu8 barbitu8 is offline
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Precisely. "Mineral rights have been excluded from the lots." They have been specifically excluded. If not specifically excluded, they are included. Most deeds will contain language such as "including all appurtenances thereunto belonging," which include mineral rights and rights, if any, to adjoining public ways.

Land can be described as "a bundle of rights" (I was taught "a bundle of sticks"), but that bundle goes with the land unless you specifically state otherwise, such as conveying air rights, underground mineral rights, life estates, etc.
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Old 03-13-2012, 02:05 PM
VOW VOW is offline
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If one of the sticks in your bundle was sold off a while back, a more recent deed cannot replace the stick in the bundle again.

My take on that is: unless your deed specifically includes mineral rights or water rights, don't expect it unless you have it verified by title insurance or your own personal research.

Access easements are another painful thorn. It often takes a lot of tiptoeing through the microfiche to determine who owns what, and how.


~VOW
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Old 03-13-2012, 02:34 PM
barbitu8 barbitu8 is offline
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Of course you have to have a search of the title before you buy the land. Only a complete idiot would not do that, preferably by a title company. Even if the deed purports to contain the mineral rights, if the seller did not have title to the mineral rights, neither will you. I think you are beating a dead horse here.
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Old 03-13-2012, 03:32 PM
Quercus Quercus is offline
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Originally Posted by VOW View Post
The illegality of murder or practicing quack medicine are examples of the government imposing restrictions on personal ACTIONS.
That's different from real property.
The building permit, fire marshal inspection, setbacks, right-of-way, utilities, yadda yadda yadda, are possible because at one time, the property owners (meaning the voters) waived those rights in order to achieve Statehood or incorporation.
~VOW
Can you provide a cite or other source explaining this in more detail?

And what, exactly is the dividing point between laws regulating actions and those regulating real estate (which you say need some prior ceding of rights by property owners)? For instance, what about health codes for restaurants? Environmental regulations about industrial activities? Or regulations about renovating asbestos or lead-containing residences? Municipal noise regulations?
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  #31  
Old 03-13-2012, 09:56 PM
VOW VOW is offline
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Real property is land, and everything attached to it. It just sits there and exists as land.

It differs from personal property, in that personal property can be moved.

The actions of people are another matter entirely.

Health codes for restaurants are governed by the PERMITS that people are required to obtain before opening a restaurant. Industrial activity is governed by zoning and permits.

But the land will always be the land. The attachments to the land (houses, manufacturing plants, restaurants) may change over the years. The governing jurisdiction where that land is located determines any changes to a structure, and the use of the land. But the land itself is perpetual.

Each piece of land in the United States has its own detailed, specific description that describes ONLY that piece of land. It can be divided or merged with other pieces, but there are even specific laws as to how THAT can be accomplished.

Real property is merely one branch of law, and you can spend years studying just that. Because of the complexity, it's often recommended that you don't try to untangle any conflicts on your own, but seek the advice of a real estate attorney or licensed land surveyor. A real estate agent can be a source of information, but he or she may not know the actual law or interpretation of the law. And you'll find that title insurance is often required when obtaining a mortgage. The title insurance will find any liens or clouds on the property which can impact the use and enjoyment of the land.

I retired after twenty years with Surveys and Right of Way Engineering at the State of California Department of Transportation. I researched deeds, I wrote deeds, and I taught others how to read and write deeds. So I do have some familiarity with the topic.


~VOW
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