New Hampshire Law School 1L Study Guide for Property

New Hampshire Law School 1L Study Guide for Property

Introduction to Property Law

Property law is the area of law that governs the various forms of ownership and tenancy in personal property and real property within the common law legal system. In the property law context, ‘property’ can refer to real or personal property. Real property encompasses interests in land and fixtures or structures upon the land. Personal property includes tangible items (chattels), as well as intangible rights and claims.

Possession and Ownership

  • Possession: Control over a property. The “finders keepers” rule often applies, but with exceptions (e.g., lost vs. misplaced property).
  • Ownership: The right to possess, use, and dispose of a thing. Ownership rights can be limited by law or contract.

Estates in Land

  • Fee Simple Absolute: The most complete estate in land, giving the owner full possessory rights and control.
  • Life Estate: An interest in land that lasts for the life of a specific individual. Upon that person’s death, the interest will transfer to another party.
  • Leasehold Estate: An estate for a limited time (term of years, periodic tenancy, tenancy at will).

Landlord-Tenant Law

  • New Hampshire RSA 540: Governs landlord and tenant actions, including evictions, security deposits, and tenant obligations.
  • Implied Warranty of Habitability: Requires landlords to maintain rental property in a condition fit for human habitation.

Transferring Interests in Property

  • Deed: A legal document used to transfer real estate from one person to another.
  • Title: Legal ownership of property, often transferred through a deed.
  • Recording Statutes: New Hampshire follows a “race-notice” system; the first to record a deed after receiving it in good faith will have priority.


  • Tenancy in Common: Co-owners have individual shares that can be sold or transferred.
  • Joint Tenancy: Co-owners have equal shares, with the right of survivorship.
  • Tenancy by the Entirety: A form of joint tenancy for married couples.

Adverse Possession

  • Elements:
    1. Actual Possession: The claimant must physically use the land as an owner would.
    2. Open and Notorious: Use of the land must be visible and apparent so that the true owner is on notice.
    3. Exclusive: The claimant must not share possession with the true owner or the public.
    4. Hostile: The claimant must possess the land without permission from the owner.
    5. Continuous: The claimant must satisfy the required period, which in New Hampshire is 20 years.
  • New Hampshire RSA 508:2: Provides the statutory period for adverse possession.


  • Affirmative Easements: Allows the holder to perform an act on the servient land.
  • Negative Easements: Prevents the servient landowner from performing an act on their land.
  • Easement by Prescription: Similar to adverse possession, but for a right of way or similar use, requiring a 20-year period in New Hampshire.
  • Easement by Necessity: Created when land is divided, and a landlocked piece requires access.

Covenants and Servitudes

  • Real Covenants: Written promises that landowners make to do or not do something on their land.
  • Equitable Servitudes: Similar to real covenants but enforced in equity.

Zoning and Land Use

  • New Hampshire RSA 674: Outlines the state’s planning and zoning laws.
  • Variance: A form of relief given to a property owner from the strict application of zoning laws.
  • Special Exception: Permission to use land in a way that is consistent with zoning laws, but subject to conditions.

Land Sales and Real Estate Contracts

  • Statute of Frauds: Requires that contracts for the sale of land be in writing to be enforceable.
  • Equitable Conversion: Once a contract is signed, the buyer becomes the equitable owner of the property.
  • Marketable Title: Title free and clear of significant defects.

Case Law Examples

Adverse Possession

Ouster v. Johnston (Supreme Court of New Hampshire, 1993)
Issue: Whether the claimants’ use of the land was hostile and under a claim of right when they believed the land belonged to them.
Rule: To establish adverse possession, the possession must be hostile such that it constitutes an invasion of the true owner’s legal rights.
Analysis: The court found that the claimants’ use of the land was mistaken but hostile, as it was inconsistent with the rights of the owner.
Conclusion: The claimants satisfied the elements of adverse possession.

Implied Warranty of Habitability

Greenfield Country Estates Tenants Ass’n v. Deep (Supreme Court of New Hampshire, 1989)
Issue: Whether the landlord’s failure to provide essential services violated the implied warranty of habitability.
Rule: Landlords are obligated to maintain rental property so that it is habitable and fit for living.
Analysis: The court concluded that the landlord’s failure to provide services like heat in winter months breached the warranty.
Conclusion: Breach of the implied warranty of habitability entitled tenants to remedies such as rent abatement.


Thompson v. Vickers (Supreme Court of New Hampshire, 1987)
Issue: Whether the easement for a right of way was extinguished when the dominant estate was conveyed without mention of the easement.
Rule: An easement appurtenant passes automatically with the dominant estate unless clearly released or extinguished.
Analysis: The court ruled that because there was no evidence of an intent to extinguish the easement, it remained in effect.
Conclusion: The easement continued to exist despite not being mentioned in the conveyance.

This study guide provides an overview of the fundamental concepts in property law relevant to New Hampshire. Students should consult their class materials, statutes, and case law to prepare comprehensively for their final semester exam.

Discover more from Legal Three

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading