Every piece of real estate has three separate and distinct physical elements: the subsurface, the surface, and the air space. The owner of the land acquires title to the land in conjunction with title to the underground space and the space above it.
Air rights mean the estate, title, interest and rights in the open space or vertical area above ground level. Any ownership of land includes the ownership of air rights, which are subject to reasonable aircraft interference.
The air itself is not real property; airspace, however, is real property when described in three dimensions with reference to a specific parcel of land. Such air rights are alienable. They can be sold, purchased, mortgaged, leased, or otherwise encumbered, subject to. easements of light and air.
Examples of the possible alienation of air rights are a condominium unit, which involves the ownership of a certain specified layer of air space, and an aviation easement, which is the right granted to aircraft, generally when approaching an airport, to fly at a stipulated altitude over certain specific land.
Methods Of Conveying, Transferring, Or Severing Air Rights From The Surface Area
The following are the most common methods:
- A lease of air rights above a fixed plane, together with the air and ground necessary for the foundations of and access to the airspace structure.
- An aerial easement. This method is generally used in the construction of elevated highways.
- By purchase of the fee of ground and air space with reservation of easement by the grantor.
- By purchase of the fee of air space plus easement for support and access.
- By purchase of the fee of air space and purchase of fee of support parcels.
- By purchase of the fee in condominiums.
Title Held By The Seller Or Transferor Of Air Space Or Air Rights
- Fee title;
- Determinable fee.
Special Title Insurance Considerations Regarding Air Space
Insurable legal description
Drafting requires the expertise of an engineer. An air space description is always extremely difficult and complicated to draft. Only local experts should attempt such a task. Any air space description must also encompass the tracts describing the easements of support and access.
- Verify that relevant state law recognizes the property interest in the air space description to be real property.
- Verify that the property interest in the air space, as described, is an estate recordable under applicable recording acts.
- Ascertain and comply with all special recording requirements.
- Determine whether the Model Air Space Act been enacted in the state where the land is located.
- Are there specific means of support?
- Are there specific means of access? Access can be achieved through any of
the following property interest:
- A fee;
- An easement;
- A leasehold;
- A license; or,
- Any combination thereof.
- Note that any access through a leasehold estate is dependent upon the life and termination date of the leasehold.
- Note that any access through an easement would be dependent on any limitation on the easement.
- Note that any access through a license would be dependent on the conditions of the license.
- Review and list mortgages, easements, restrictions, and other liens and encumbrances affecting the subjacent parcel prior to its division.
- Review leases affecting the subjacent parcel prior to its division.
- List mechanic's liens based upon work done or materials furnished to the subjacent parcel prior to its division.
- Compliance with zoning regulations.
- Compliance with subdivision acts.
- Do statutes contain any provision for separate taxation of an air parcel?
- If the air space is over a railroad, does the railroad own the fee title?
- If the air space is over a street or highway, who owns the fee title?
- If the air space is over a navigable body of water, who owns the fee title?
Title Insurance Of Air Space
Insuring title to air space separated from the title to the soil is an extrahazardous risk.
If the air space is part of a condominium unit, please review the section on Condominiums.
In any other case in which the estate to be insured is a space above the surface of the property, specific approval must be obtained from the National Legal Department before issuing any title commitment or title policy.