Private Property in California

What’s the state of home ownership right now?

Credit: Unsplash

“Under all is the land. Upon its wise utilization and widely allocated ownership depend the survival and growth of free institutions and of our civilization.” 

– Preamble National Association of Realtors

Q:  Marsha, Can you explain the state of home ownership and private property rights in California right now?

A:  First, let me give background on the history of private property and real estate ownership in our country. Our modern concept of private property and real estate acquisition dates from the Industrial Revolution. Wealth was rapidly growing in the cities and a middle-class population developed. Agrarian estate owners had employed people who lived and worked on the owners’ land. During the 18th century, a lot of wealth and disposable income was created in the cities and this burgeoning intermediate population began to demand their own homes. The bourgeoisie was born.

In 1769, Spanish habitants began settling in what we now know as California. At that time the land was still part of Mexico. After the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, Mexican citizens who owned land in California were granted patents by the US government for their already established land rights. Any land not granted patents was considered US government property. Today, our federal government owns close to 48 percent of California’s 100 million acres of total land. California is third in federal land ownership. 

As far as home ownership statistics, California doesn’t have a good showing. California has a 56 percent home ownership rate as opposed to a 65 percent rate nationwide. The state with the largest home ownership is West Virginia, where nearly 80 percent of the state own real estate. Home ownership is part of the American dream, but it’s a lot more expensive and difficult in California. 

What does it mean to own property? As real estate has developed there is a “bundle of legal rights” that has become codified. These recognized and established rights are: The right of possession, right of control, right of exclusion (no trespassing), the right to derive income and the right of disposition (the right to sell). These property rights are recognized in our US legal system. 

Along with rights, landowners also have obligations. One of the primary obligations is to maintain their property free from hazards and dangers that could cause injuries. This is a recognized obligation of ownership whether it’s residential, industrial, or commercial property. There is a constant tug of war between private interests of property and that of the public. Homeowners’ rights are curtailed by nuisance laws, zoning laws, property taxes, rental control laws, housing tracts with deed restrictions and homeowner’s associations. 

Real estate is never static. In a never-ending attempt to supply more housing, our California legislature passed the laws SB 9 and SB 10. As of January 2022, there is no longer any single-family residence zoning in California. New California laws SB 9 and SB 10 allow multi-unit and multi-story buildings on single-family lots. SB 9, which overrides local control of zoning has aroused a lot of pushback. These laws are viewed as controversial by all sides of the political spectrum. 

For all the back and forth over private property rights, home ownership is a strong positive factor for our state and country. Homeowners have an energetic “pride of ownership” that creates self-respect and satisfaction in neighborhoods, cities, and the overall environment. 

Marsha Gray has worked in Santa Barbara real estate for over 25 years. She works at Allyn & Associates, where she helps her clients buy and sell homes and with lending services. To read more of Marsha’s Q&A articles, visit Contact Marsha at (805) 252-7093 or


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