Real Estate Law – A Guide for Homebuyers and Sellers

Real estate law governs the legal rights and responsibilities of individuals and businesses involved in property transactions. It also regulates zoning and land use, addresses construction issues, and resolves disputes.

In New York, for example, sellers are required to disclose known housing defects to buyers. And financing contingencies stipulating a timeline in which a buyer must secure adequate funding are common in purchase agreements.


A real estate lawyer covers the rights of people to own land and any permanent man-made additions to it, such as buildings. This legal field also defines who can occupy the property and for how long and establishes the consequences of nonpayment of rent or mortgage. Real estate laws also set guidelines for zoning and environmental issues.

When it comes to buying or selling property, most transactions require a contract. Ideally, both parties involved in the deal will have attorneys to protect their interests and ensure that all contracts adhere to state law. However, this isn’t always feasible or possible, especially when the parties are in separate states.

A contract signals the intention of both parties to engage in a real estate sale and describes the conditions that must be met for the transaction to close and for ownership of the property to transfer to the new buyer. A real estate lawyer can help a client craft a contract that maximizes their chances of success, whether they are the buyer or seller.

For example, a real estate attorney can include a financing contingency in a purchase agreement that specifies a timeline within which the buyer must qualify for a loan or other payment method to complete the sale. Such provisions can be essential for buyers who cannot afford to take on a large mortgage outright and may need to finance the purchase.

Other common rider clauses include inspection contingencies that specify the terms under which a property can be inspected and warranties regarding the condition of the property at closing. Real estate lawyers can also address property taxes and title insurance issues. They can also assist clients with unconventional circumstances, such as lease-to-own or owner-financed deals, and help them negotiate the complexities of these agreements.


A deed is a legal document that transfers ownership of property, such as a home or land, from one party to another. It must be signed, notarized, and filed on record in order to be valid. Deeds are important documents for several reasons. They indicate who owns a piece of real estate, usually include a legal description that defines the boundaries of a unique piece of land, and provide evidence of ownership if it is ever disputed in court. Deeds are also important because they often contain a chain of titles that can be used to trace ownership back in time.

Deeds come in many different types, but some provide more protection for buyers than others. For example, a general warranty deed guarantees that the seller has the right to convey the property and that the property is free of any debts or financial claims. Other deeds, such as a quit claim deed, do not guarantee any ownership rights and offer no protection to buyers if issues arise related to ownership.

When a person purchases a home, they normally receive the deed when they close on the property. However, the deed may not be sufficient proof of ownership if it is not properly recorded. In addition, a person who does not have a valid deed may not be able to sell or refinance the property. A deed is not considered legally binding until it is filed in the records of a local county government. A title insurance company or a lawyer typically performs this task. Without the proper documentation, a person may not be able to sell, refinance or obtain credit for the property.


Generally, a lease sets out the responsibilities and obligations of both lessors and lessees in connection with a particular property. This can help to avoid legal disputes or other problems. In some cases, it can even protect tenants or homeowners from the effects of foreclosure or other similar issues. If a tenant or homeowner does not have a formal lease in place, they may have fewer rights when it comes to evictions and other protections under state law.

Another type of real estate contract often used in the form of a lease is a lease-purchase agreement. This type of contract allows the tenant to buy the property at the end of the lease period. In some cases, the purchase price can be set in advance and is non-refundable. The purchase price can also be based on the property’s appraised value at the time of the lease or some other agreed-upon value.

A lease purchase agreement can also set the size of a down payment and the timeframe for making it. The parties can also choose to have a portion of the monthly rent paid toward this down payment.

When it comes to leases, both buyers and sellers need to work with a real estate lawyer. The attorney can help them draft a comprehensive contract, check it for legal glitches and add useful contingencies. In addition, the lawyer can assist with unconventional real estate sales such as a lease-to-own or owner-financed deal.

Finally, it is important to know that even when a seller does not intend to sell their property immediately, they should still perform all of the due diligence required by state law. This includes getting a home inspection, an appraisal, and all the necessary disclosures.


A home buyer’s purchase is likely the largest single investment he or she will make. As such, buyers need to understand all aspects of a property and their potential impact on the home and its value before making any final decisions.

A real estate lawyer can be valuable in navigating the many issues that may arise during a residential or commercial transaction. From zoning and environmental regulations to homeowners association rules, a skilled attorney can provide valuable information and advice that will help buyers and sellers avoid potential disputes.

For example, the law requires that home sellers disclose known defects, such as a leaky roof or asbestos in the basement. This disclosure is designed to protect homebuyers from purchasing a house with issues that could have serious consequences. It also helps to prevent the seller from being sued after the sale for concealing such defects.

However, it’s not always easy to determine whether a seller has fully disclosed all known issues. Cross-checking the home seller’s claims against official documentation is one way to do so. This can include public records, contracts, and reports. For instance, if the seller says that they’ve recently had their roof or HVAC system replaced, ask to see the contract, receipt, and warranty to verify the claim. Additionally, if the seller is claiming that they’ve cleared a lien on their property, you should check with local government offices to see if this is true.

In New York City, specific laws govern the sale of condos and co-ops. Those laws are designed to protect the interests of apartment dwellers, investors, and the environment. In addition, there are rules governing how landlords can rent their properties. This includes eviction policies and rules about whether or not a property is considered inhabitable.

Landlord-Tenant Law

Real estate law is a broad category of laws that determines who can use the land, what structures can be built on it, how much property taxes people pay, and even what materials below the ground can be used. Real estate law also covers disputes over ownership and boundaries of land.

For those who intend to buy and own a home, understanding the basics of real estate law is essential. For those who plan to rent a home, understanding landlord-tenant law is equally important to protect against unfair treatment and practices such as discrimination, harassment, and arbitrary rental increases.

New York landlord-tenant law is governed by various state and local rules that impact landlords and tenants. For example, the Residential Landlord and Tenant Act governs standard rental housing. The Act contains rules governing security deposits, the transfer of rental properties, and evictions.

The law also sets forth other landlord and tenant rights, such as the right to reasonable entry of a landlord’s property for maintenance purposes or showings to prospective buyers. In addition, the law prohibits discrimination based on gender identity, immigration status, or source of income.

In general, landlords who are selling a property must inform the tenants in writing of the intention to sell. This notice must include a description of the property and a copy of any contract or agreement with a buyer. Landlords must also provide the current tenants with a written statement of their rights, including the right to purchase the property at the end of the lease term.

Most states have statutes governing landlord-tenant matters that should be reviewed when considering a sale or a lease. The Laws and Legal Information section of Nolo provides a link to each state’s statutes and tips on how to research them. Alternatively, your state’s laws can be found on its legislature website or in a public library with a law collection.

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