The term “seisin” refers to the legal possession of land. A person holding an estate in seisin is said to be “seized of it.” This means that he alone owns all of the land. The term “seisin” comes from the European Feudal era, and it was used as a way to specify who has taken over a plot of land after someone has passed away. For example, seisin was used in the form of “the son and heir of Lord Stein has been granted seisin of his inheritance.” To explore this concept, consider the following seisin definition.
Definition of Seisin
- The possession of something, especially land.
- The right to possession of estates of freehold.
1250-1300 Middle English
What is Seisin
The term “seisin” refers to the character of a person’s possession of a piece of property. A grantor can own a parcel of property through a seisin in law, or a seisin in deed. These types of seisin are outlined in more detail below. The grantor can also make promises, or covenants, with regard to how clean the title to the property is. These promises are referred to as “covenants of seisin,” or “covenants against encumbrances.”
Types of Seisin
There are two types of seisin that can be used in a situation. These are “seisin in law,” and “seisin in deed.” Each of the types of seisin carries with it its own brand of strength.
Seisin in Law
Seisin in law occurred when the parties to a land transaction went to a location within sight of the parcel of land, and the transferor declared that he transferred the land to the other party. While a seisin in law is a form of taking ownership of a parcel of property, this process is considered to be an incomplete conveyance in the eyes of the law.
Seisin in Deed
A seisin in deed can be considered the missing piece of the puzzle within a seisin in law. This is because, in this case, the transferee physically enters onto the property, thus converting the seisin in law into a seisin in deed.
In the past, rather than physically entering onto the property, a piece of the land was sometimes handed over instead, such as a piece of the property’s turf. This symbolic transfer of the land was more convenient when one of the parties lived a fair distance from the parcel. A tenant who was able to secure a seisin in law and a seisin in deed was then in possession of the most iron-clad legal title that he could possibly obtain for his property.
Covenant of Seisin
The covenant of seisin serves as a promise that the grantor possesses a parcel of property, and therefore has the right to convey title. In addition to the covenant of seisin, there exists a covenant against encumbrances. This covenant states that the parcel of property is not burdened with any liens or other restrictions, other than those which have already been noted in the deed to the property.
Neither the covenant of seisin nor the covenant against encumbrances serves as a guarantee that the title will be marketable. These clauses are only as good as the grantor, meaning that if the grantor goes into bankruptcy or becomes otherwise unreliable, then the covenants he had previously promised are reduced to little or no value whatsoever.
A warranty deed is a modern deed that essentially serves as a promise made by the grantor that he is authorized to sell a parcel of land, and that the title to that land is free of liens or hindrances. A warranty deed is different from a quitclaim deed. With a quitclaim deed, the seller does not guarantee to the buyer that he holds the title to the subject property.
A warranty deed can also be classified as a “general” or “special” warranty deed. A general warranty deed protects the buyer against any defects that can occur with the title at any point in the future, retroactive to the origin of the parcel. A special warranty deed protects the buyer only against any title defects that may arise from the deliberate or neglectful actions or omissions of the seller.
There are six traditional forms of covenant for title that can be included in a warranty deed. These covenants can be grouped by present or future covenants. For example, seisin is included in one of these types of covenants. Such present and future covenants are outlined in more detail below.
Present covenant consists of the covenants of seisin and the right to convey, as well as the covenant against encumbrances. The covenant of seisin assures the buyer that the seller has the right to sell the property. The covenant of right to convey represents the seller’s promise that he is the legitimate owner of the title to the property, and that he has not entered into a contract with anyone else to sell the property. A covenant against encumbrances is a promise made by the seller that there are no liens or other handicaps on the property aside from those which are already known.
Future covenant consists of the covenants of quiet enjoyment, warranty, and further assurances. The covenant of quiet enjoyment is a guarantee made by the seller that the buyer and all of his heirs and assigns will be able to enjoy the property free of interruption, and that they will not be evicted or deprived of their ownership at any point in the future.
A covenant of warranty represents the seller’s promise to protect the buyer in the event that someone shows up in the future and claims ownership to the property. Finally, the covenant of further assurances dictates that the seller should take any and all steps necessary to cure any defects in the property’s title before selling it.
Most buyers conduct what is called a “title search” before they purchase a piece of property. This is to determine if there are any liens, impediments, or defects with the title that must be resolved before the property can be sold. A title search is recommended as part of the buyer’s research before buying a piece of property.
While anyone can research property titles, it can be a tedious endeavor for the uninitiated. A title company has vast experience in researching and interpreting title information, and may issue title insurance to the buyer, which protects him against any potential title defects. A warranty deed does not make for a substitute for title insurance. This is because if the grantor of the property dies or finds himself in bankruptcy, then the grantee may not be able to exercise his warranty.
Seisin Example Involving a Faulty Warranty Deed
An example of seisin being argued in a court of law can be found in a case from the 1990s, wherein a warranty deed was drafted incorrectly and did not account for a sizeable portion of a parcel of land. This error had a negative impact on its transfer later on. On March 29, 1991, Tom Pollard, Frank Burnett, Carolyn Burnett, Walter Hastings, and Vivian Hastings (the “Defendants”) sold a parcel of property to Tamco Supply (the “Plaintiff”) by way of a warranty deed. Tamco Supply was a partnership consisting of Thomas and Joann Cummins.
Mr. Hastings composed the legal description of the property that was contained within the deed. He based his description on the survey of the lot that was done in 1977 after it had been improved upon, though he included a portion of the land that had not been surveyed. As a result, about 18 percent of the property described in the warranty deed was property that the Hastings did not, in fact, own, and therefore could not transfer.
Mr. Cummins became aware of this when he had the land surveyed in 1996. The land surveyor realized that the property the plaintiffs had purchased was indeed about 18 percent smaller than the plaintiffs had originally thought. Tamco then sued the Defendants, complaining that the defendants had breached the covenants of seisin and the right to convey. Tamco claimed that it could not expand upon the property due to this error, and requested the court to declare the warranty deed void and award the appropriate damages.
The defendants answered Tamco’s complaint in November of 1998, denying the allegations, and asserting that the plaintiff’s complaint was frivolous and violated Tennessee’s Rules of Civil Procedure. Later, both the plaintiff and the defendants filed motions for summary judgment. In the Plaintiff’s motion, he claimed that the defendants had breached the covenants of title that were contained within the deed. The defendants argued that such a deficiency was not enough to warrant relief. The trial court ruled in favor of the defendants, finding that there were no disputed material facts. Said the Court:
“From a review of the record and defendants’ statement of material and undisputed facts, it is clear that there were never any warranties, oral or written representations to the Plaintiffs from any Defendant. The record is devoid of any facts that would indicate any negligent misrepresentation or any fraud on the part of the Defendants.”
Tamco appealed the trial court’s decision to the Court of Appeals of Tennessee. Here, the Court sided with the trial court and affirmed its decision, remanding the case back to the trial court so the deed could be reformed, and thus establish the correct titles of record. Said the Court of Appeals:
“…Relief will be granted where a deficiency is so great as to shock the conscience of the court because a presumption of fraud must thereupon arise…Under the facts of this case, a deficiency of 17.5 percent is not so great as to shock the conscience of the Court. The order of the trial court granting summary judgment to defendants and denying summary judgment to plaintiff is affirmed.”
Related Legal Terms and Issues
- Damages – A monetary award in compensation for a financial loss, loss of or damage to personal or real property, or an injury.
- Deed – A legal document that pertains to the ownership of, or legal rights to, a parcel of property.
- Defendant – A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
- Grantor – The seller of a piece of property.
- Plaintiff – A person who brings a legal action against another person or entity, such as in a civil lawsuit, or criminal proceedings.
- Summary Judgment – A final decision on the case, handed down by the judge on the basis of the statements and evidence presented, without a full trial.
- Title – A formal document that serves as evidence of a buyer’s ownership of a parcel of property.