Property Law Basics

27 Apr 2023
Author: Hayley Willers
Property Law Basics

Property law is a branch of law that deals with the ownership, use, and transfer of real property (land and buildings) and personal property (movable assets such as vehicles, furniture, and intellectual property). This article provides an overview of the basics of property law in New Zealand.

Ownership and Title

In New Zealand, property ownership is usually recorded in the Land Registry, which is maintained by Land Information New Zealand (LINZ). When a person buys or sells a property, they transfer the title of ownership from the seller to the buyer through a legal process called conveyancing. The title provides proof of ownership, and any encumbrances or restrictions on the property are also recorded on the title.

Types of Property Ownership

There are several types of property ownership in New Zealand, including:

  1. Freehold: The most common type of ownership, where the owner has full rights to use, occupy, and sell the property;
  2. Leasehold: Where the owner holds a lease on the property for a specified period, typically 21 or 99 years;
  3. Cross-lease: A type of ownership where the property is divided into several units, and each owner has an exclusive right to occupy a specific unit, but the land is jointly owned; and
  4. Unit title: A type of ownership found in multi-unit developments, where the owner has a separate title for their unit and a shared interest in the common areas.

Restrictions and Encumbrances

There are various restrictions and encumbrances that can affect property ownership in New Zealand, including:

  1. Easements: A right of way or access granted to another party, such as a neighbour or utility company, to use part of the property;
  2. Covenants: A legal agreement that restricts the use of the property, such as a requirement to maintain a certain standard of appearance or not to use the property for commercial purposes;
  3. Mortgages: A loan secured against the property, where the lender has the right to sell the property if the borrower fails to repay the loan; and
  4. Liens: A legal claim against the property by a creditor for unpaid debts or services.

Legal Disputes

Legal disputes can arise in property law, such as boundary disputes, title disputes, and disputes over access or use of the property. In such cases, the parties involved may seek resolution through negotiation, mediation, or court proceedings.


Property law is a complex area of law that governs the ownership, use, and transfer of real and personal property. Understanding the basics of property law is essential for anyone buying or selling property in New Zealand, as well as for landlords, tenants, and property investors. Our experienced team at DTI Lawyers is equipped to provide you with specialist advice relating to all your property matters.  

Property Law Basics
About the Author
Hayley Willers
Hayley Willers is a Managing Director at DTI Lawyers. She is a highly experienced property and commercial lawyer who deals with a wide range of commercial and private property matters including Property Development and Relationship Property. You can contact Hayley at