Storage J

Temporary Occupancy
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Do You Think You Own Your Home?

By James Donahue

All of this drama about home foreclosures and mortgage foreclosures, declining property values and homeless people occupying vacant buildings is a very contemporary phenomenon. When the aboriginals occupied the North American continent, there was no such thing as land ownership.

If you think about it, there still isn’t. At least for middle class Americans.

It is true that millions of us have “bought” homes, most of us are currently paying off mortgages that today amount to more than they say our houses are worth. And a rare few . . . those who stayed in the same place long enough to pay off the mortgage or perhaps won the lottery . . . think they own the property outright.

In truth, they don’t.

If they fail to pay their property taxes it doesn’t take long for the state to seize ownership and put it on the market for tax sale.

If they get involved in growing and selling marijuana or any other prohibited controlled substance on the property and get caught, there are forfeiture laws that allow the government to seize and sell property and use the money to finance drug enforcement agencies. Even suspicion of narcotic activity sometimes leads to property forfeiture.

Failure to maintain the property in a way that meets neighborhood and community standards can lead to condemnation and demolition procedures. The standards can get even higher if the property is located in a closed or especially zoned community.

Cities and county governments also have the authority to declare condemnation of entire neighborhoods to make way for public construction projects such as new highways and/or buildings declared more beneficial for the entire community. In these cases, however, owners are usually paid a sum that is considered a “fair market value” for the property.

When property is mortgaged, the technical owner is the bank or the lending institution that holds the mortgage. If the buyer becomes ill, gets laid off from his or her job, or has some other misfortune that makes it necessary to miss mortgage payments, it doesn’t take long for the property to go into foreclosure.

In short, the term property ownership is a misnomer. It should be called temporary property occupancy.

There are two parts to home possession. There is the house in which we live, and the land on which the house sits. The land has existed since the Earth was formed. The house is a temporary structure that is in a constant state of deterioration. This requires constant maintenance to keep it in good order.

Once we choose or are forced to leave the property and move on, or we die, the ownership ceases. At that moment another person or agency takes possession.

From that perspective, the best way for us to look at property is that we are given the gift of enjoying it for as long as we need it. When we move on, it is someone else’s turn to have it.

In the long run, nobody really owns anything. No matter how many possessions we collect during the brief time we live on this planet, none of it follows us once we leave these bodies.

When you think about it, all of this drama about real estate values, lost investments and property foreclosures is part of the crazed quest among investors for financial wealth. It has little to do with where we live.

Home is always where we hang our hats and live with our loved ones, no matter how dilapidated or glorious the enclosure is.