You think you own your land? Guess again.
There are only two paths to absolute ownership of land - discovery and conquest - neither of which are likely to be your journey to home ownership...
Of course in modern times with little of the planet left to discover, conquest usually occurs at a national level – whether it’s the UK taking the Falklands, Russia taking Crimea, or myriad other examples.
Please note, I’m not trying to ignite a New Zealand race relations debate here, rather to highlight the status of ownership rights which most people are unaware of.
In the western world, what we typically think of as land ownership is in fact ownership of certain rights to the land, as granted by the sovereign (though delegated to government).
The most common tenure is known as an ‘Estate in Fee Simple’. This means you have the right to:
Use or not use the land
Exclude others from using it
Alter the land, such as recontouring, or building upon it
Sell or gift the land to others
Rent out the land to others
Retain these rights in perpetuity
These all might sound like ownership, but there are a few items missing… the government being the underlying landowner (the holder of Allodial Title) when issuing subsequent titles, retains certain privileges. They can:
Levy taxes against the land
Make laws about how the land may be used (zoning, building standards, access for police)
Force the sale of your ownership interest for non-payment of charges
Resume ownership if you die without heir (Escheat)
Compulsorily acquire the land for public works
In recent years, these issues have come to the fore in public debate. Increasing council rates, new building standards, subdivision rules, environmental standards – all appear to tilt the power balance away from the landowner and towards the state.
Understandably most homeowners resent this, and to the layman it appears central and local government are steadily eroding property rights over time.
To be fair, the government’s rights were there all along... it’s just that they’ve started to flex their muscles more recently and bolster them.
Whether that’s a good or bad thing I’ll leave to you.