Purchased land with billboard on it, without lease. Who owns the billboard?


#1

Hi, folks,

We recently purchased a strip of undeveloped highway frontage that had gone through a tax foreclosure auction. The land has a billboard by a major company already installed, which that company erroneously believed was located on another owner’s property.

Who owns the billboard in this case, where the company doesn’t even have a right to being on the land where it’s been constructed?

Thanks!


#2

That is definitely a question for a real estate lawyer. What a great purchase!


#3

Thanks for the note; exploring that option now. Got a bit more info out of the billboard company leasing the space - they’re sticking to their guns on where they think its located, because they’ve had a long term lease in place.

Someone made a substantive error - and as much as I hate having to go the legal route, may end up that way.


#4

Regardless of where the billboard company built their sign, it would still be construed as their sign. The bigger issue is the rent that went unpaid for maybe decades to the prior owner, and may now be your money (that’s definitely a technical, legal issue). In most states, there is case law on “trespassing rental income”. For example, if you went onto a neighbor’s farm and rented an abandoned house on the farm for $500 per month for a year, you would owe the farmer $6,000 in rent, because you “stole” his rental income. To me, that’s the case here.

My bet is that the billboard company thought that it had a handle on where the lessor’s lands boundaries were, but didn’t bother to do a survey. That’s not the first time it’s happened. I don’t think they have a legal leg to stand on, so I would definitely hire a good attorney and see what you can do with the situation. If they threaten to take the sign down, then you can file an injunction until they pay you all the rent you are owed – which might be a huge number (the gross rent on the sign for the number of years it has been there). However, if the lawyer tells you that you have no legal ownership of that old “rent” then you may instead elect just to strike a new, fair lease with the billboard company and be happy that you had such a luck out.


#5

Thank you, Frank. That was very helpful.

Subsequently, I’ve contacted the municipality’s building department, which issued a permit for construction listing the location incorrectly. They’re investigating.

The area the sign is located has strict restrictions for off-site billboards, but apparently this one is grandfathered in – so the company may be loath to lose it. However, if they do somehow get it removed, I’m wondering if I can’t replace it with another leasee’s sign, if it’s the same size?