Tennessee Law School 1L Study Guide for Property
- Real Property vs. Personal Property
Real property refers to fixed property, primarily land and buildings. Personal property refers to movable assets. In Tennessee, the distinction between the two types of property can have an impact on aspects such as inheritance, taxes, and transfer of property.
- Adverse Possession
Adverse Possession allows a person who possesses the land of another for an extended period of time to claim legal title to that land if they can prove that their possession was hostile, actual, open and notorious, exclusive, and continuous for the statutory period. In Tennessee, the statutory period is 7 years with a color of title and 20 years without it.
Case: Wood v. Starko (2012) – The Tennessee Court of Appeals applied the adverse possession requirements and found that the defendants did not adversely possess the plaintiff’s property.
- Tenancy in Common
A form of concurrent property ownership where each owner, referred to as a tenant in common, is deemed to own a separate and distinct share of the property.
Case: Cox v. M.A. Primary & Urgent Care Clinic (2018) – The Court of Appeals of Tennessee held that a deceased tenant in common’s interest in real property as a tenant in common passed to his heirs at law, and not the other tenants in common.
- Joint Tenancy
Another form of concurrent property ownership where each owner, known as a joint tenant, has an undivided right to the property, and upon death, the survivor(s) automatically inherit the deceased’s interest.
Case: Allgood v. Gateway Health System (2019) – The Tennessee Court of Appeals held that to create a joint tenancy with the right of survivorship, it is necessary for the deed to express the clear and unambiguous intention of the grantor to vest a joint tenancy with the right of survivorship.
- Life Estate
A life estate is a form of property ownership where an individual, known as the life tenant, has the right to use, possess, and enjoy the property during their lifetime. The remaining interest (remainder) is typically held by another party, who will take full ownership upon the life tenant’s death.
Case: Barker v. Wingo (2013) – The Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed that the life tenant has full use of the property during their lifetime but should not damage or diminish the worth of the property to the detriment of the remainderman.
An easement is a right to cross or otherwise use someone else’s land for a specified purpose. Easements in Tennessee can be created by express grant, implied grant, necessity, and prescription.
Case: Bennett v. Steelman (2016) – The Tennessee Court of Appeals held that an easement by prescription requires a use that is adverse, under claim of right, continuous, uninterrupted, visible, and exclusive for the prescriptive period of 20 years.
- Landlord-Tenant Law
A significant part of Property Law, Tennessee Landlord-Tenant law governs the rental of commercial and residential property. It is composed primarily of state statutes and common law.
Case: Johnson v. Hopkins (2017) – The Tennessee Supreme Court held that landlords have a statutory duty to comply with all applicable building and housing codes materially affecting health and safety and make all repairs necessary to keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition.
Zoning refers to municipal laws dividing a city or town into zones for purposes such as to control the uses of land within these zones and prevent nuisances from affecting the community.
Case: Cordova Safety Products v. City of Memphis (2017) – The Court of Appeals of Tennessee held that zoning decisions generally involve a presumption of validity and the challenging party bears the burden of proving otherwise.
- Conveyance of Property
In Tennessee, a deed must be in writing, have sufficient words of conveyance, include a description of the property, and be signed and acknowledged by the grantor in order to properly transfer real property.
Case: Anderson v. Smith (2019) – The Tennessee Court of Appeals reiterated the requirements for conveyance of property and emphasized the importance of “clear and express” language in the deed to convey property.
Reviewing these concepts and understanding the respective case laws will provide a strong foundation for property law in Tennessee.