California Property Law Terminology 101

property lawMost experienced real estate investors and developers will know the common terminology used in legal discussions, but for the regular homeowner or business owner, this jargon can quickly become overwhelming.

With that in mind, it's often helpful to outline what some of the most common terms mean in personal property law cases and business property law cases. Some terms are pretty straightforward and generally apply to multiple sectors within the industry of property law; others are a bit more complicated and apply to niche sections of real estate legal cases.

  • Eviction: An eviction is another legal process that can apply to residential or commercial properties where the land is leased out to a tenant. Landlords can evict a resident if that resident fails to make rent payments or abide by the terms of the lease agreement. In California, landlords must provide 60 days notice to residents (if the resident in question has lived on the property for over a year). If the eviction escalates to a courtroom proceeding, a judge must make a decision on the case within 20 days of it being filed.
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  • Foreclosure: You've probably heard this term before and, if nothing else, you know it usually means bad news. On average, one in every 200 homes are foreclosed upon (although in 2013, one out of every 96 homes in the U.S. were foreclosed due to the Recession). When a property owner fails to make his/her mortgage payments, the mortgage lender files for a foreclosure in order to seize the property.
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  • Forbearance: This is a temporary hold on a foreclosure process which allows the property owner more time to make mortgage payments and avoid having the property taken away.
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  • Homeowners association (HOA): This is a group created by community members which regulates private and public property within a certain region. HOAs are required to provide meeting information to all members, as well as financial statements explaining how its HOA member fees are used. These groups typically operate within gated communities or condos; they can pass rules about owning pets, permitting/prohibiting front lawn decorations, and negotiating problems between neighbors.
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  • Mortgage: If you don't know what a mortgage is and you've never had to deal with one, consider yourself lucky! There are several different types of mortgages and they all aim to provide easier financing of a residential or commercial property purchase.
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  • Unclaimed property: This is defined by Title 10 in the California Civil Procedures Code as any property which is vacant or any property for which no legal owner can be found. According to the California State Controller's Office, residential properties are just one type of "unclaimed property" -- everything from safe deposit boxes to trust funds can be considered "unclaimed."
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  • Zoning laws: These differ depending on geographical location and can restrict the height, land coverage, or use of any building constructed in the specified region.

Of course, it's impossible to narrow down all the important terms of property law into one article -- but we don't want to leave you hanging! What other real estate terms would you like defined? Or any of the above terms which you'd like explained more? Be sure to let us know!