Most homeowners assume they own the soil and everything else that’s under their lawn.
But that may not be the case for homeowners in subdivisions built by the giant homebuilder D.R. Horton, which lists more than two dozen neighborhoods in the Raleigh and Greensboro area on its website.
As The Independent’s Lisa Sorg reported here, homeowners in several Triangle-area D.R. Horton subdivisions are finding out from a basic search at county Register of Deeds offices that the mineral rights to the house were split off at the time of purchase from the general deed.
Owning the mineral rights is a Colorado company that’s turns out to be—surpise! — a subsidiary of the homebuilder.
The mineral rights appear to give the energy company, in some cases, the right to drill and extract gas or other substances from below a home’s surface.
Real estate lawyers and others Sorg talked to said they hadn’t heard of this happening before in North Carolina, though it has in states like Pennsylvania, Texas, Colorado and other states with gas and oil deposits.
And with a very real possibility of fracking (the highly controversial extraction of natural gas from underground shale deposits) getting approved by the North Carolina legislature (with the blessing of Gov. Bev Perdue), those signed-away mineral rights could mean a tough time reselling the homes or even a natural gas derrick going up in place of a community pool.
From Sorg’s article:
Some of the homes in the Brightleaf at the Park subdivision in Southeast Durham are so new the mailboxes have never been used. The concrete driveways are still pristine and free of dirt. The grass is unnaturally even and green.
For less than $300,000 you can own a 3,100-square-foot house and a quarter-acre of land in Brightleaf—but you will not own most of what lies beneath it. Starting at 501 feet below the surface, the mineral rights—ownership of natural gas, oil, geothermal heat, hydrocarbons, even water—belong to DRH Energy, a subsidiary of D.R. Horton, one of the nation’s largest homebuilders.
For the past two years, D.R. Horton has sold the mineral rights—and the right to drill, mine, store and explore for them—to its Colorado-based energy company on at least 425 of its lots in Raleigh, Cary, Durham, Chapel Hill and other Triangle cities, according to deed records. Coincidentally, the transactions began occurring in the summer of 2010, around the time the push began to legalize fracking in North Carolina.
While common in other states, including Texas, where D.R. Horton is headquartered, the sale of mineral rights is new in North Carolina. Several title companies, real estate agents and other real estate professionals contacted by the Indy were unaware of D.R. Horton’s activities or the assignment of mineral rights in general.
The splitting off of the mineral rights caught the attention of the N.C. Attorney General’s office, which told Sorg it is addressing the issue in a report due to the N.C. legislature May 1.