As an investor, learning what appurtenance is in real estate may seem like a dry concept. However, when you consider that appurtenances affect your usage and ownership rights for any new property you obtain, it's easy to understand why you might want to have an idea of what this term means.
To that end, below is your guide to appurtenance in real estate. Read it over so you understand how this term is defined, what counts as appurtenant in real estate, and what you should know before investing in another property.
What is appurtenance in real estate?
At its core, "appurtenance" is a legal term used in the real estate industry to describe the relationship between ownership of a piece of property and an item or right of lesser value. An appurtenance is something that is attached to the property and stays with the property in the event that the owner changes over time.
The definition comes from the 1919 Supreme Court of Minnesota case Cohen v. Whitcomb. In this case, which involved the question of who owned a water heater that was installed by the tenant, the court ruled that the water heater was appurtenant to the property, meaning that it belonged to the landlord even after the tenant who installed it moved out. In that case, the Supreme Court defined appurtenance as "That which belongs to something else. Something annexed to another thing more worthy."
However, it's also important to note that appurtenance has other meanings outside of the real estate lexicon. In Gestalt theory, this term describes the relationship between two things that exert influence on each other. Meanwhile, in lexicology, it expresses "belongingness," or the relationship between two related items.
What are some common examples of appurtenances?
Now that you know more about what the definition of appurtenance is, the next step is to look at some common examples of appurtenances. We've listed a few examples below for your consideration. Take the time to look them over to get a better idea of what to expect the next time you put in an offer on a property.
- Exterior buildings (e.g., barn, shed)
- Outdoor fences
- Inground pools
- Ceiling fans
- Window blinds (if installed)
- Fixtures (excluding trade fixtures)
- Existing crops
- Oil or mineral rights
- A shared driveway (with attached easement appurtenant)
- Water rights (given to an adjoining property)
What are the criteria for something to be considered appurtenant?
Based on the examples above, it may seem like anything attached to the property can be considered an appurtenance. However, that's not necessarily the case. In fact, in order for an item to be considered appurtenant to the property, it must fulfil these requirements:
It must be intended to be permanent
Essentially, anything that is intended to stay with the home on a permanent basis can fall into this category. For example, a deck in the backyard, an inground pool, or an exterior structure like a barn or shed easily fall within this category.
It must be attached using a permanent method
Likewise, if the item is attached to the property, it needs to be attached using a permanent method in order to transfer with ownership of the property. Otherwise, it will be considered personal property, which can be removed when the seller moves and someone else takes over ownership of the property.
Cabinetry, fixtures, and ceiling fans are all good examples of the ways in which appurtenances are meant to be attached to the property.
It must be easy to remove without causing damage
Lastly, though it may be a bit confusing, the item needs to be able to be removed without causing much damage to the property. If it is impossible to remove the item without causing damage to the building, the item will likely be considered real property instead.
Again, cabinetry, fixtures, and ceiling fans are all good examples of how is it possible to remove appurtenances without causing damage to the property.
What an investor needs to know about appurtenances
With all that being said, as an investor, you're going to want to be especially careful if you're planning on investing in any property that comes with appurtenances. This is particularly true if yours is a dominant estate and your neighbor has the legal right to use your property in some way that may not be anticipated by a future tenant.
To that end, we've laid out some considerations for you below. Read them over to know what to keep in mind when it comes time for you to invest in another property for your portfolio.
Always check to see what's included with the property
First, when you're in the market for an investment property, you're always going to want to make sure to check with the seller's agent about exactly what's included with the property. While knowing the definition of appurtenance can give you some idea of what to expect, often sellers have their own ideas. With that in mind, if you see a fixture that should be included with the property, take the opportunity to have your real estate agent ask about it.
Be especially careful with easements
That said, you're going to want to be especially careful when it comes to any easements that may exist. In this case, an easement appurtenant runs with the land, which means that it doesn't necessarily have to be included in the deed in order to have an effect on the adjoining property. For example, if you buy a landlocked parcel, you'll more than likely have a driveway easement with your neighbor even if it's not explicitly spelled out in the deed.
With that in mind, before you buy a property, you're going to want to make sure you're aware of any easements and how they function. When in doubt, it doesn't hurt to bring in a real estate agent or a real estate attorney to help you through the negotiations.
The bottom line
While appurtenances may not be the most hot-button topic in real estate, they are important to understand. As you can see from the Supreme Court of Minnesota example above, they can have an effect on landlord and tenant relations as well as that between buyer and seller. As you invest in subsequent properties, make sure to clearly define any appurtenances that may exist. In this case, you're better off safe than sorry.