Air Rights Above Your Home

Every home owner should know the basics of their air rights; you know the air right above the house. Not many people give it a thought, except for those in cities like New York, or San Francisco where space is almost all that matters to home owners.

So do you own the air above your land? What could you do if you did?

Air rights

Air rights are considered a development right, and that is a general rule dating back to the twentieth century where home owners owned the land below their home, and the air above it. All that void space above your home is considered yours.

Still, today’s laws for the most part follow the old Latin doctrine, “For whoever owns the soil, it is theirs up to heaven and down to hell.”

Once the airplane came on the scene, those rights became a bit more restricted. The new rule of law was that homeowners can only use the airspace they could “reasonably use”. For the better, this law allowed airplanes to operate without invading everyone’s airspace multiple times a flight; allowing the industry to take off.


Zoning laws are another thing to consider. They stop your neighbors from building a 12-story condo building right next to your residential home, and all your neighbors for that matter. Even though he may own the right to use that space, zoning laws circumvent these types of problems.

If your home doesn’t have a second floor, but you really wish it could, and maybe even a third; zoning restrictions prevent you from adding anything that would seem unreasonable, like a fourth, maybe even a third story.

Value in the city

Heavily populated cities like New York have high housing demands and little space to offer. Cities like so do have air rights, and they hold a price tag. If you aren’t using the air, someone else will. Developers often look for unused air, and claim those rights to build something in its place.

Sometimes it doesn’t always work out that way though. Just because there is unused air above you, doesn’t mean it holds value. There are times when the seller of the rights has no investors to sell to; basically none of the other neighbors can enjoy the new addition.

The view is whose?

San Francisco is a good example of a city with hills and views are obstructed throughout the city. Your view could be awesome one day, and be blocked by a new addition the next if zoning laws allow it. It’s common that neighbors will go to a public neighborhood hearing to voice their displeasure in a possible add on. Fighting that is always one of the hardest parts.

Ask pre-purchase

If you are curious about your rights on a property you want to buy, go visit the local planning department. You’ll need the address before you ask them about what are you possibilities in adding on to the property.

Most air rights don’t hold a lot of value. Just because you own it doesn’t mean someone is willing to buy it.

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