What Does Fee Simple Ownership Mean?

fee simple ownership

Fee simple ownership is most commonly referenced today when purchasing new real estate.  Fee simple is a legal term and is the most common and absolute type of property ownership in the United States.  If you are buying land or looking to sell, lease, or purchase mineral rights, understanding fee simple ownership is crucial.

What does Fee Simple Ownership include?

Fee simple ownership encompasses an entire personal estate.  By owning a fee simple estate, the property owner has control over the surface rights, subsurface rights, as well as the rights to the air above the property.  Each of these rights (or all of them together) can then be sold, gifted or bequeathed to another individual or entity by the property owner.  In some states, it is also possible to lease the surface or mineral rights of a property for an extended period of time.

Who Can Own a Fee Simple Estate?

In most of the world, any resources found beneath the Earth’s surface belong to the government in which the land resides.  The United States is one of the few unique countries in which fee simple ownership is possible, as property owners have the ability to own their subsurface and mineral rights. Owners of single-family residences most commonly have a fee simple estate, whereas those who share land or space, such as in apartments or townhomes, rarely have fee simple estates.

Owning Surface Rights Without Mineral Rights

It is entirely possible to purchase land without a fee simple estate.  In some cases, the mineral rights of a property are owned entirely by a different person than the surface rights.  In this scenario, you can still purchase the surface rights in order to build and live in a home on the property, however, you will not own the minerals below the surface of your land.  Although the law varies from state to state, you may be entitled to compensation for damages to your property’s surface through the extraction of minerals.

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