Appurtenance

What Is Appurtenance?

The term appurtenance refers to the attachment of a right or property to a more worthy principal. Put simply, appurtenance means that something legally belongs to another, larger, more valuable entity. It commonly occurs in real estate and applies to improvements or rights that come with a form of property. It occurs when the attachment becomes part of the property, such as a furnace or air conditioning unit in a house. Once attached or installed, it cannot be separated from the larger entity.

Key Takeaways

  • Appurtenance is a legal term that means that something belongs to a larger, more valuable entity.
  • The term is commonly used in real estate where an appurtenant becomes the legal property of what it was improved upon.
  • For something to be considered appurtenant, the addition must be permanent, must be installed using permanent methods, and its removal must cause considerable property damage.
  • Understanding the concept can make real estate transactions much smoother and free from complications.
  • Appurtenance can have many different meanings and applications such as in real estate, natural resources, and even items owned by the wealthy, including estates or luxury cars.

Understanding Appurtenance

Appurtenance is usually applicable to property rights or items that are permanent and passed along with the sale of a property. An appurtenance is a real property, which is defined as being immovable or fixed to the land. In this case, appurtenances relate to the land.

Appurtenants grant the ownership of certain items to a person who owns the property in legal transactions, such as the sale or transfer of a property. For example, once a tenant installs a new water tank in their apartment, they may not be able to remove the appurtenance because it is often considered part of the property as a whole.

In the 1919 case of Cohen v. Whitcomb, the Supreme Court of Minnesota defined appurtenance as "That which belongs to something else. Something annexed to another thing more worthy." The case revolved around a debate about the ownership of a hot water heater installed at the property by the tenant. The lease stated that any repairs or improvements made by the tenant became part of the property and were, therefore, the landlord's property.

This can also include in-ground swimming pools, fences, or sheds that are all fixed to the land. The term can also be used to describe the acreage behind a home. This plot of land, or the backyard, is generally viewed as being part of the property—an appurtenance of the house. Appurtenances also include rights to natural resources found in the land, such as water, minerals, or oil, as well as improvements to the property and easements.

Property rights are typically sold with the home and include appurtenances.

Criteria for Appurtenance

If you're still confused about what makes something appurtenant, this section tackles that topic. There are several requirements that something must fulfill in order to be considered an appurtenance. The following is a simple list of the criteria:

  • Permanence: When an improvement is made to a property, it must be considered a permanent addition. This is true for any addition, such as a heating system or swimming pool.
  • Method of Attachment: Improvements must be made using methods that are considered permanent. For instance, installing an in-ground swimming pool versus one that's above the ground. The installation of the latter may be considered temporary and not part of the property.
  • Removal: It is considered an appurtenance if the removal of the improvement or addition would cause significant damage to the property. What constitutes significant value depends on where you live and who you ask. In some cases, it may be up to a court to decide.

If you're unsure about any part of the property in a real estate sale or transaction, be sure to ask what is and isn't included. If the seller can't take something with them, there's a good chance it'll be included in the transfer.

Appurtenant Easement

Appurtenant easements occur in real estate when one party allows another to use their property for a limited purpose. For instance, a homeowner may allow their neighbor to use a walkway on their property to access a community park. In this case, the one who allows the easement is known as the servient tenement estate while the one given the limited purpose is called the dominant tenement estate. This is the property that benefits from the easement.

These easements may come in many different forms, including:

  • An easement of necessity. This type of easement occurs when land ownership is severed or divided between two or more owners.
  • Implied easements. This involves large pieces of land that are divided into smaller parcels. Despite the division, the rights of each tract of land remain the same.
  • Express easements, which is the most common. Created with a written deed or contract, this type of easement is sold to the owner of a neighboring property.

There is also what's called a prescriptive easement, which involves trespassing. The person doing the trespassing must do so openly and continually in order to claim an easement.

Appurtenance can also be an object or privilege associated with status, title, or affluence.

Why Appurtenance Matters

Appurtenance is a very important concept that all property owners should understand. But very few often do. So it's a good idea to understand why it matters to any real estate transactions that you execute.

Most buyers look at properties and base their decisions on what to purchase and what to pass up based on certain characteristics. Remember, an appurtenant is something that is attached to or belongs to a piece of real estate. Some things naturally come with a home when you purchase it, such as doors, windows, kitchen cabinets, and the heating/cooling system. But there are other items that may not be included in the sale like window treatments that may not actually be installed.

You generally have a claim that something is appurtenant if the seller doesn't agree but it meets the requirements listed above—if it's considered a permanent part of the property, was installed using permanent methods, and its removal causes considerable property damage.

This is why it's always in your best interests to ask about what is and isn't included in your property. And if there is something you want to be included that isn't, be sure to add a clause in your contract so there's no problem in the future.

Alternate Meanings

The idea of appurtenances also appears in psychology. The Gestalt theory likens appurtenances to a sense of belonging or the relationship between two factors that directly influence each other, such as fields of color. The two fields of color may, in fact, be different. But the way they interact with one another may appear to the viewer that they should, in fact, belong together as one.

Appurtenances are also commonly used to describe people who belong to a specific country or region of the world. For example, someone from India may describe themselves as being desi, which means someone of the land. Similarly, an Israeli is someone who is from Israel, while the word American is used to describe someone from the United States.

People may make references to the appurtenances of wealth or celebrity. These often include sports cars, mansions, and designer clothing. In this case, the items would be considered an appurtenance since they are part of that celebrity's estate or image.

Article Sources

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  1. Harvard Law School: Caselaw Access Project. "Cohen v. Whitcomb, 142 Minn. 20 (1919) Feb. 14, 1919 · Minnesota Supreme Court · No. 21,022 142 Minn. 20 Joseph W. Cohen v. J. A. Whitcomb."