Fee simple is a type of property ownership that is often discussed but seldom understood. But don’t worry, we’re here to make things easier for you. Read on to learn everything you need to know about this topic.
Disclaimer: REthority is supported by ads and participation in affiliate programs. We may earn a commission when you click our links.
What Is Fee Simple?
Fee simple ownership is an unrestricted type of absolute ownership. It is the most common and highest level of real property ownership recognized by the law.
Fee Simple vs Leasehold Ownership
This differs from leasehold ownership because the owner’s rights are considered indefinite, not contingent on a lease contract, and the owner can use it as collateral or security for a loan.
- Fee simple property can be rented out or leased to a tenant by the owner. This does not involve a transfer of ownership.
- A single-family home that is owned, not leased, falls under the fee simple (sometimes called fee simple absolute) category of ownership.
Where Does Fee Simple Come From?
Is Mortgaged Property Considered Fee Simple?
Because fee simple estate is defined as unlimited, unrestricted property ownership, it’s reasonable to question whether mortgaged property is considered fee simple. Mortgaged property is still considered fee simple.
In fact, most fee ownership property is acquired through a mortgage. Although a mortgage means the property ownership interest is technically shared between the owner and the lienholder, the owner still has the legal right to make changes to the property, rent it, sell it, or will it to an heir.
This is where the “unlimited” part of fee simple ownership interest comes in. As Nolo puts it, fee simple is just “outright ownership.” The exception to ownership rights that mortgaged fee simple property presents is the lien holder’s ability to take possession of the property if payment conditions aren’t met.
Can Multiple People Share Fee Simple Interest Ownership?
Yes, multiple people can share ownership interest in a fee simple estate. Fee simple interest might be owned by one person, a group of people, joint tenants, or tenants in common.
The defining factor is the ownership’s presence on the actual property deed, giving them full property rights – the right to modify, sell, or leave the property to an heir or group of heirs.
Fee Simple Ownership Limitations
Property taxes, zoning laws, deed conditions, eminent domain, and other types of regulations still apply to fee simple property ownership in the United States. These regulations, depending on the location, are part of the conditions of ownership.
Fee Simple Absolute vs Fee Simple Defeasible
Defeasible estates have additional conditions on a fee simple property or estate written into the deed. If the conditions aren’t met, the property ownership can be voided.
Depending on the wording of the conditions in the deed, the estate will be either fee simple determinable or fee simple subject to a condition subsequent. Fee simple determinable estates have to follow the conditions in the deed or face the termination of their rights to the property.
The ownership is then returned to the original grantor of the deed (or their estate). Fee simple “subject to a condition” estates have different language in the deed that doesn’t mean a broken condition automatically reverts to the grantor.
The grantor still has the right to enter the property, but not to immediately take back ownership.
Government Rights to Fee Simple Estates
The federal and state governments, under the allodial system, limit the rights of property owners in certain conditions. These limitations include:
Taxation on the Property
State governments can impose property taxes on owned property and seize ownership if those taxes are not paid. Tax liens have the top priority over all other types of liens on a property.
In the case of the death of a property owner who has no heirs or has abandoned property, the state of their residence takes ownership of it.
The government’s ability to acquire or seize property for a purpose like building or widening roads, parks, and schools. First, there is a negotiation between the property owner and the governmental body enacting eminent domain.
If an agreement can’t be reached, the property owner must take the dollar amount proposed in exchange for the property.
This is the government’s right to enforce laws for safety, order, or otherwise “public good.” Zoning laws and building codes are enacted through police power.
Together, these governmental rights create additional limitations on fee simple property ownership. Although the property is owned outright, it is not immune or excepted from these events.
So, What Is Fee Simple?
As you can see, fee simple is a type of property ownership that applies to most home sales. However, it can be tricky. To recap what we’ve discussed: