Most people know that when they buy real estate, the documents showing ownership and liens should be recorded at the local courthouse. However, simply getting a document to the courthouse with the appropriate filing fee is sometimes not enough to ensure that the document effects the property that it is supposed to effect.
Every square inch of Ohio has a unique historical record of ownership that can be traced back to federal government land grants, sometimes dated before Ohio’s statehood.
Identifying that history is done by professional title examiners, who are often attorneys like me. The history of any square inch of property is called that property’s “chain of title.” Chains of title to different properties can run together, particularly if the properties have similar owners over time. However, Ohio law is very specific concerning what is considered to be in a certain property’s chain of title and what is considered to not be in that property’s chain of title.
A personal experience illuminates the importance of recording a document in the right chain of title.
In the 1950s, Ohio planned an amazing, state-of-the-art interstate highway that would span the state. The Ohio Turnpike was to be a beautiful, distraction-free, multi-lane expressway.
As the Ohio Turnpike’s developers purchased properties from landowners for the road, the developers included a condition on each purchase. Each seller was to agree that no billboards would be placed anywhere on the other land that that seller owned.
Sometimes the sellers’ promises to not place billboards on the sellers’ properties were included in the deeds for the properties sold to the Turnpike. Other times, there were separate documents signed by the specific seller identifying the neighboring properties that could not have billboards.
Several state and federal laws were passed after the Turnpike’s development, further restricting billboards on interstates to a limited number of rural locations in Ohio. Those laws were seen as unnecessary for the Turnpike (even though they applied to the Turnpike) because of the billboard restrictions that the Turnpike had already secured.
My client found property adjacent to the Turnpike upon which the law did not restrict billboards. From a title search, my client saw that there was no billboard restriction in the chain of title to that property. My client purchased title insurance. Then, in 2009, my client erected two billboards on that property.
The Ohio Turnpike Commission immediately sued my client. In the case, we successfully proved the billboard restriction was not in the chain of title to my client’s property. The billboard restriction was only in the chain of title to the property purchased by the Turnpike for the road itself.
Because my client had purchased title insurance, every penny of my legal fees in defending my client all the way to the Supreme Court were paid by the title insurance company.
To this day, the only billboards adjacent to the Ohio Turnpike are my client’s billboards because a certain billboard restriction was not recorded in the proper chain of title.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-523-5523. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.