Note: This is the webpage for a class from the past that has ended. Information about current classes is available here.
Final exam: I have posted last year’s final exam here. This year’s final exam will be conducted on Wednesday, May 2, from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm.
TA review session #5: Elise will hold a TA review session on Friday, April 20, at 9:00 am in room 205.
TA review session #4: Elise will hold a TA review session on Friday, April 13, at 12:00 pm in room 205.
Reading update: I have updated assignments 21 and 22 to trim the readings and make up some time. See below.
Makeup class #3: We will hold our third and (hopefully!) final makeup class on Thursday, April 19 from 3:05 to 5:05 pm in the Rich Room.
Interesting articles: Here are links to a couple of interesting articles that have come up in class recently. Worst Roommate Ever is about the guy who abused tenant-protection laws to terrorize his roommates; Walmart’s Out-of-Control Crime Problem Is Driving Police Crazy is about, well, how Walmart’s crime problem is driving police crazy. (Also here’s the Tampa Bay Times exposé on the Walmart phenomenon.)
Makeup class #2: We will hold a makeup class on Thursday, April 5 from 3:15 to 5:15 pm in the Rich Room.
Estates and Rule Against Perpetuities summaries: The Estates summary that was handed out in class on Wednesday, March 7 is available for download here, and the Rule Against Perpetuities summary from Monday, March 12 is available here.
Midterm exam: The midterm exam will be sent out by email on the evening of Thursday, March 15. It will be due on Tuesday, March 20.
TA review session #3: Elise will hold a TA review session on Thursday, March 15, at 3:30 pm in room 205.
TA review session #2: Elise will hold a TA review session on Friday, February 23, from noon to 1:00 pm in room 205.
Makeup class #1: We will hold a makeup class on Thursday, February 22 from 3:15 to 5:15 pm in the Rich Room. In that class, we will wrap up the material on gifts and then discuss question 1 from last year’s sample midterm exam and questions 1 and 3 from last year’s actual midterm exam.
Course policies: I have added a short section to the syllabus with a few course policies. Check them out below.
TA review session #1: Elise will hold a TA review session on Friday, February 2, at 3:00 pm in room 205.
Schedule note: We will not be having class during the scheduled make-up time on Saturday, January 27. We will make up the class session at another time to be announced.
The official UNH course description for Property is this:
This course will introduce and illustrate the fundamental legal concepts and terms involved in the control of three kinds of property: real estate, chattels (goods), and intellectual property. With primary emphasis on real property, we will study the rights and powers of ownership, how they are acquired and transferred, how ownership can be shared (either simultaneously or over time, including future interests, leases, and licenses), recording systems and the rights of purchasers or lien holders, and sovereign powers (grant, escheat, eminent domain, regulation, and forfeiture).
This is true as far as it goes, but it does a poor job of capturing what this class is really about. The core substantive first-year law-school classes — torts, contracts, property, (at most schools) criminal law — are taught to everyone and tested on the bar exam because they form the basic building blocks of how society regulates behavior. Torts and crim tell us how the law deters, remedies, and punishes harms committed against another; without these doctrines we would be on perpetual lookout for threats to our safety, security, and solitude. Contracts tells us how the law regulates promises and exchanges; without these doctrines it would be hard or impossible to plan for the future. And property tells us how the law governs resources, or things that can be owned and possessed — land and houses, cars and laptops, and less-tangible resources like stocks and bonds, wireless spectrum rights, even in some cases ideas and regulatory exclusivities. Without property law, some of these resources would be fought over; others would be under- or over-used; others would never come into existence in the first place.
The ideas in this course, then, show up throughout the law and throughout the law-school curriculum. If you wind up practicing intellectual-property law, real-estate law, environmental law, corporate law, family law, or any of several other fields, you will deal with property issues and property concepts every day. And even if you don’t deal with property issues in your practice, you will in your personal life, whenever you buy or lease a home or a car, deal with a homeowners’ association or city building inspector, or think about starting a business, obtaining a copyright or patent, or planning an estate.
Because the course touches on so many issues, it can feel like a bit of a grab bag. One useful organizing principle is to think about it like this. Imagine a two-dimensional grid. Each of the columns represents a different kind of property: land; buildings; cars; money; mineral deposits; copyrights; and so forth. Each row is a type of question we can ask about that kind of property: What does it mean to “own” this kind of property? How does this kind of property become property in the first place? How does this kind of property change owners? How can multiple people divide up ownership of this kind of property? How does one prove ownership of this kind of property? How can the government regulate this kind of property? And so forth. We won’t answer all of those questions for every kind of property in this course — many of them are the province of other courses, and this course tends to emphasize real property, to the occasional detriment of other kinds of property — but we will begin to think about how we can answer them.
The other thing every first-year course does is help us understand how to think about the law. So in addition to learning about property law and property theory, we’ll spend a lot of time on legal-reasoning skills that will apply across the law-school curriculum. Why do different states or nations adopt different legal rules, and what should we think when they seem to adopt inconsistent rules? What are the different values and normative assumptions that policymakers and judges rely on, explicitly or implicitly, when enacting rules or deciding cases? Do those assumptions and values hold up under scrutiny, or are there persuasive counterarguments? What are the different metrics we could use to evaluate a legal rule? When should society change a legal rule? We won’t be able to definitively answer any of these questions, but we can begin to make some progress.
There are two required books for this course.
The casebook is Dukeminier, Krier, Alexander, Schill, & Strahilevitz, Property (8th ed. 2014). Note that the ninth edition is coming out in early 2018; be sure you get the eighth edition, not the ninth. The book is available in several formats, including hardcover, digital, and looseleaf editions. (The “Concise Edition” will not work; do not buy it.) Please note that if you choose the “Rental + CasebookConnect” version, you are just renting the physical book and will have to return it at the end of the semester. Rental, used, and new copies are also available from Amazon at a significant discount — new copies are available for about $110, and used copies for about $40, as of this writing.
The required supplement is John Sprankling’s Understanding Property Law. Because property law doesn’t change that quickly, the specific edition is not critical; I will post reading assignments for the third and fourth editions, though even older editions are probably fine.
In addition to these books, I will post occasional readings and assignments on this site. I will not be using Canvas or a similar system.
» Class meetings, office hours, and teaching assistant
We will meet on Mondays and Wednesdays from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. in room 200. On a few occasions, we may need to cancel class due to a conflict or a snow storm; we will make up those sessions at times announced in class and posted on this site.
Outside of class, I don’t have set office hours, but you are always welcome to stop by my office (room 210) and chat or just grab some candy. This semester, I should be in the office most Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday afternoons, and some Thursdays; if you’d like to set up a specific time to talk, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The teaching assistant for the class is Elise Romberger. She will host periodic review sessions; more information about those sessions will be announced in class. She is also available to meet outside of class; email her at email@example.com to set up a time.
» Attendance, participation, and evaluation
Regular attendance is required, and under the standard ABA rules, you may be barred from taking the examination and receiving credit for the course if you miss more than 20% of class sessions. Attendance will be taken by sign-in sheet, and signing in for someone else is, as always, academic misconduct.
I expect you to come to class prepared, having read and considered the assigned materials. I will call on students to ensure broad participation; you are also welcome — nay, encouraged — to volunteer responses, questions, and comments.
An occasional absence is fine, but please let me know by 6:00 p.m. the night before class so I can avoid calling on you. Likewise, if for any reason you will not be prepared to discuss the assignment for a particular class, email me by 6:00 p.m. the night before and I won’t call on you, no questions asked. This is the only way to opt out of being called on; if I call on you, and you haven’t emailed me in advance, you’ll have to answer my questions even if you aren’t prepared.
Your course grade will be based on two components: a short take-home midterm exam (25%) and a take-home final exam (75%). We will discuss the content and timing of the midterm in class; the final will be comprehensive. I may adjust grades upward or downward by one step on the grading scale (for instance, from a B-plus to an A-minus or a B) for participation that is especially helpful or insightful, or for any students who are repeatedy unprepared or absent.
» Course policies
We are all here to learn about the law, and in general I am all for anything that helps further that goal. This means that with a few expressly identified exceptions (primarily the midterm and final exams), you’re free to collaborate with each other and to consult whatever sources you wish in your work for this class. It also means I want you to feel comfortable in class, free to express your experiences and opinions — in a professional and respectful manner — and learn from the many diverse experiences and opinions of your classmates. If there’s anything that is making you uncomfortable, inside or outside of class, please come and talk with me about it, and I will do anything I can to help so long as it’s consistent with the goal of learning property law.
» A note on laptop use
There has been a lot of talk in law-professor circles in recent years about whether to let students use laptops in class. I want to lay out some of the points of discussion and explain my approach to this issue so we’re all on the same page.
There are good arguments on both sides. Proponents of banning laptops generally make two arguments: (1) that laptop use by one student can distract other nearby students; and (2) that laptops hurt students’ understanding of the material. The second point is worth unpacking. Most people can type more quickly than they can write by hand, so students using laptops can be tempted to just transcribe the class in their notes. If you can only handwrite so much, though, you have to think through the material and synthesize and summarize, which promotes understanding of the material. And there are academic studies backing up these arguments (see here, here, here, and here), though the conclusions one can draw from them are limited due to methodological issues and small effect sizes.
Opponents of banning laptops have arguments of their own: (1) that using technology effectively and responsibly is a key part of legal practice; (2) that laptop bans can disproportionately hurt, or stigmatize, students with disabilities; and (3) that laptop bans differently affect students with different learning styles. For instance, some students learn better from written material than from oral delivery; some learn better by synthesizing material after the fact, rather than in the moment. Laptops can be useful tools for these students. (There are also debates about pedagogy and paternalism versus libertarianism, but we can set those to the side.)
On balance, I find the arguments against banning laptops slightly more persuasive than the arguments in favor. So I allow their use in class, with two caveats. The first is that I encourage you to think about whether laptop use actually helps you learn the material — whether you are one of those students for whom taking notes on a laptop will work better than by hand. The second is that that use must be limited to note taking and the like. Where laptop use unequivocally hurts understanding — for both yourself and surrounding students — is when it’s unrelated to class. So laptop use for social media, email, web browsing, chat, games, and the like is prohibited.
In 2013, the faculty approved a list of competencies that are important to the practice of law. For a list of those competencies, indicating which will be covered in this class, click here.
» Schedule and reading assignments
Last updated April 10, 2018.
We will fill in the list of reading assignments over the course of the semester, covering about one assignment per day. “DK” refers to the casebook, while “UPL” refers to Understanding Property Law.
How property becomes property
Dividing ownership over time and between people
Note: The next four assignments contain a few cases and a lot of highly technical, often-unintuitive legal rules. We will spend a bunch of time in class talking through the problems. I’ve assigned both the casebook’s explanations and the corresponding portions of Understanding Property Law in the hopes that having two explanations will make the rules clearer, though at the cost of some redundancy.
The rights of owners and regulating ownership