Commercial Loans Blog

Commercial Loans and the 99-Year Lease

Posted by George Blackburne on Wed, Jul 24, 2019

Common LawU.S law is based primarily on English common law.  Common law is the part of English law that is derived from custom and judicial precedent, rather than from statutes.  An example of common law is a ruling that some judge made, in an old case more than two-hundred years ago, that says that people have a duty to read contracts.

Common law is often contrasted with statutory law, which is the body of laws enacted by Congress, the various state legislatures, and other law-making bodies and which are actually spelled out in some book of statutes.  In Penal Code 187, California law defines "murder" as "the unlawful killing of a human being or fetus with malice aforethought."


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Under English common law, the longest that real estate could be leased for was 99 years.

If your lawyer made a mistake and wrote a real estate lease for 100-years, after the execution (signing) of the lease by both parties, the lessee could immediately go to court and have the judge declare that the lease was an actual sale of the property.  The intended land lessor would be a given a mortgage for the amount of his land lease payments, and title to the property would pass to the intended land lessee.  

How could this possibly matter?  Imagine leasing out a piece of land for 100-years, and then a wave of hyperinflation struck.  The intended land lessee could simply hand you a check for 100-years worth of payments (possibly just enough to buy a cup of coffee) and keep title to the property, free and clear of the mortgage, for himself.


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Although U.S. courts always show great deference towards English common law, the various state legislatures are not bound by them.

Some U.S. states have passed state laws that say the longest period that you can lease real estate for in their state is only 40 years.  Other U.S. states have passed laws that say that you can lease real estate for as long as the parties would like.  Other states have kept the 99-year common law limit.


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