As a responsible property owner, it is important that you have a general understanding of your rights as an owner and the extent of those rights. The best way to become a knowledgeable and informed property owner is to first familiarize yourself with the primary documents that set forth those rights.

Protecting your property rights begins with a thorough understanding of your property obligations and entitlements. By reviewing and understanding certain core documents, you will become better equipped to converse with lawyers or others should your rights be questioned or threatened. For instance, if you are facing the potential taking of your property by eminent domain, having a basic understanding of your property rights will go a long way in determining the best way to respond to such an action.

Many documents contain valuable and important information about your property and your ownership rights. Some of the most common ones include the deed, the deed of trust, the underlying title documents and commitments, zoning maps, master plans, etc.


If you don’t have copies of these documents, you can generally secure them from either your title insurance agent or company or the local Clerk and Recorder’s office. You can also secure copies of these documents from the local land use and planning department.

What You Can Get From Title Documents

Generally, title documents will contain important information regarding the defects, liens, title exceptions, deed restrictions, and other limitations that may impact the property, its usability and functionality. A few examples include:

Encroachments

An encroachment is defined as an extension of a physical structure like a driveway, tree, or building over the property lines from an adjoining property. One typical example of an encroachment is a fence constructed beyond the boundaries of a property.

Deed restrictions

A deed restriction defines a limitation on what you can do with your property. Deed restrictions may impact the full use and enjoyment of your property.

Liens

A claim against the property that acts as collateral for debt is called a lien. Common liens include tax and mortgage liens. If you are sued, and the court enters a judgment against you which you cannot immediately pay, it will typically be filed against the property. This is called a judgment lien.

What You Can Get From the Planning or Land Use Department

At your local Planning or Land Use Department, you can generally find documents that will give you more information about your property. For instance:

  • The major public or private projects that are expected in the area where your property is located
  • The long-term development or master plan for the area where your property is located
  • The roads and streets that serve the property
  • The utilities that serve the property and where they are located
  • The assessment or tax districts your property is located in
  • How your property is mapped, platted, and subdivided
  • How your property is zoned and what uses can be made under the zoning category and classification

What You Can Get From the Clerk and Recorder’s Office

The Clerk and Recorder’s Office is where you can find the deed and other property conveyance documents. It also goes by several different names, including the Recorder of Deeds and the County Recorder’s Office.

Regardless of the name, you can generally find the instruments or complete documents that have been recorded against your property there. Since there are countless property records found in these facilities, searching for a particular record can take some time.

Fortunately, the staff is generally accommodating and willing to assist you in your research. If you need to have copies made of any particular document, be prepared to pay a fee.

Conclusion

Property owners are not expected to be experts when it comes to their property rights. But having a basic knowledge of what those rights are will be useful in situations where property rights are being questioned or threatened. The good thing is that it is fairly simple to become a knowledgeable and informed property owner if you know what to look for and where to look.