When you own real estate you also own any fixtures attached thereto. In general, a fixture is something permanently affixed to the land. A structure attached to a foundation, for example, or within a house, cabinets or fixtures that would require tools to remove from the walls, would generally be considered fixtures.
If something is not a fixture, it’s considered personal property and would not naturally be conveyed with the real estate when you sign a deed. A dock or appliances would be examples of personal property. Where this becomes important, of course, is when you are selling your land. It’s always smart to be very clear what is or is not included with the sale of land so there is no ambiguity. Without a clear purchase agreement, we are then left with the law of fixtures to sort out any disputes (ambiguity means lawyer fees).
Another more recent application of this law is that banks are now wanting confirmation that your home is not a manufactured or mobile home. Many owners don’t even realize that their home is not stick-built. In this case, the home is not considered a fixture and you must obtain the certificate of title (similar to a vehicle title) from the previous owner in addition to the deed for the land. This has led to many problems of late as many of these homes were placed on the land years ago and the owner of record on the certificate of title is long gone. In that case, we have to go through a court proceeding to obtain a new title.
When this issue is discovered, it’s often best to surrender that certificate of title. This is a process where you officially record the title and confirm that the house is now a fixture so future deeds will also include title to the land and house.
Here in lake country, another example of how this can cause problems is when the parents own a lake place or just a larger parcel. Their kids maybe want to contribute to the costs of ownership by building a pole barn or second garage on the property to help house all the toys. The understanding is often that the child that paid for the pole barn still owns it. In reality, that pole barn is now a fixture so whomever owns the real estate also owns that fixture no matter who paid for it.
Please send any request for topic suggestions to email@example.com. Although we cannot give you legal advice through the column, we can provide some general information that may be helpful for you to know. Our purpose is to educate and we hope that you can take something new away from this column each time you read it.