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April 13, 2011

Guest Post: I Heart Property Law and Vampires Should Too

TV: The Vampire Diaries

Hi. I'm Christine, and I love property law. (Kate is probably rolling her eyes right now. I might sometimes bug her about it. "But how can Isobel get into foreclosures? The bank still owns them. Does it have to be owned by a person? She still hasn't been invited in by anyone who has a right to be there in any capacity!" *insert Kate's groan*)

So as you might imagine, this week's episode made me VERY HAPPY. It answered a question I've been bugging Kate about since I started watching: who the hell owns the Salvatore Boardinghouse? The boys are dead, so they can't unless they've been wandering around compelling the appropriate authorities to give them legal documentation that makes them legally exist. It's also possible that Zach left them the house in his will, but no one knows he's dead, right? HOW DOES THAT WORK?

[Disclaimers: First, I know I'm being ridiculous. Just go with it. Second, I am not yet licensed so cannot give legal advice. Always seek qualified legal advice when transacting property transfers with your vampire boyfriends.]

Aaaaanyway, last Thursday on The Vampire Diaries:

Elena & Stefan: Blah blah dead mother blah.
Damon: Look! I have brought LEGAL DOCUMENTATION into the PLOT. *eyebrow action*
Christine: Swoooooon.
Stefan: Here -
Christine: Hold on. I need my smelling salts. *rustle, rustle* Right! Carry on.
Stefan: Here is the deed to our house, which is currently in Zach's name, but the script says we're pretending that we now own it.
~five minutes later~
Christine: Boys? Don't forget to file a gift tax return.

I think about the Vampire Invite Issue probably more than is healthy. I can't help myself. It's not unclear, really; it's just that I keep beating it down and beating it down, looking for an underlying pattern (nerd fun), and the show is a little inconsistent. (I love you, Show!)

Here's my issue in a nutshell: is it ownership or occupancy?

At first it seems to be merely occupancy. Jenna can invite vampires into the Gilbert house. Tyler invites Katherine into the Lockwood house (though I wonder if his mother inherited the house, or he did? Or some combination of both? Inquiring minds want to know.).

But last week John invited Isobel into the Gilbert house. As far as we know, John is just a guest at there. How does that work? I am assuming, since John once said that he was the estate's trustee, that the house is in trust for the kids, in which case the deed is probably in John's name as trustee. Jenna can live there with Jeremy and Elena, but she doesn't have any ownership interest in it, and Jeremy and Elena are beneficiaries of the trust but not, as of yet, owners of the trust property. If the invites work by occupancy, then sure, Jenna, Jeremy, and Elena should all be able to invite vampires in.

BUT. John doesn't live there, and he doesn't have any individual ownership interest in the house (that we know of- he could have some sort of contingent interest from his brother's will if Jeremy and Elena predecease him, but that's stretching kind of far even for me, isn't it?). But he can issue invites? Does this mean that guests can issue invites? Bonnie spends most of her time at the Gilbert place, too. Can she issue invites? If, on the other hand, the estate is not in trust, but John is only guardian of it (terminology is important, Show), then he has no ownership interest at all, in any capacity.

NOT TO MENTION that if John, who only has ownership in his role as trustee of the estate which actually owns the property, can invite people in, then why can Isobel get into foreclosures, which are also owned by a non-human entity? She's never invited in by a representative of the bank. Do banks not count?

Which brings me to apartments: apartments are still owned by someone. Sometimes it's a group of investors, but sometimes it's an individual. When an apartment is leased out, there's no real issue- traditionally the lessee (i.e. the person renting) has exclusive control over the space (though that can be changed by contract, and usually is). Certainly a person who is renting an apartment can issue invites, as they have some degree of control over the premises. (I'm still confused about why Logan couldn't get into his apartment after he turned, but we'll leave that alone.)

When the Manwitches die, Damon can get into their apartment, which is presumably owned by someone else, possibly even a business entity, like a bank in the case of foreclosures. So actually, I suppose that makes sense, as long as we're thinking about occupancy, not ownership.

BUT. This week two things happened to make me doubt that: Uncle John as mentioned above, and the boys giving Elena the deed to the house. If invites work as I suspect they do, Elena moving in to the house should be enough. Perhaps they're just taking every possible precaution. Perhaps I need a hobby. Who can say?

Thank you for bearing with me,


PS- I know I'm probably forgetting loads of examples. I did this from memory, because I'm supposed to be studying for finals, not watching TVD for a more informed essay. Bummer, right?

PPS- Stores and restaurants, while privately owned, are open to the public during certain advertised hours, which is an implied invite to everyone, presumably including handsome vampires who have run out of hoodies and black v-necks and need to go to the mall.

PPPS- Which brings me to another question: can invites be implied? If you say, "the party's through there" and point at the backyard, why doesn't that count? If it doesn't, then vampire law is fairly formalistic and relies on magic words, not just intent, which makes it EVEN MORE MYSTIFYING.

PPPPS- I also wonder why the boys didn't each give Elena, say, a 1/40 undivided interest in their house. They could use their annual exclusions AND get a minority interest discount AND she'd still have 100% right to occupy the whole house as a tenant-in-common, as long as she didn't try to prevent them from occupying the house also. I guess that wouldn't come across very well on screen.

PPPPPS- To the two of you who have gotten this far: I love you. Clearly we are meant to be friends.

Posted by Kat at April 13, 2011 11:36 PM

Hee. You may be relieved to know that you're not the only one who's been pondering this with increasing bewilderment and frustration!

Also - is it possible that Isobel, prior to occupying a foreclosure, has the trustee/real estate agent show her round on the pretense of her considering buying/renting it... during which time she'd gain an invite?

Posted by: EleanorPalimore at April 13, 2011 11:58 PM

Wow. I haven't ever seen TVD (I just understood what you mean with that, and I feel proud and useless :D), but I've read the whole thing, and liked it xD Now I want to watch it... I'll have to get time out of nowhere. Thanks for the post, I laughed at it even without understanding half of it. I FEEL INTELLIGENT. *irony#

Posted by: Ines~ at April 14, 2011 01:48 AM

This is brilliant. The brothers should put you on retainer asap.

Posted by: Whitney at April 14, 2011 08:45 AM

I LOVE your legal insanity! You are even more warped than I am! We all think we hyperanalyze every episode. Christine has managed to take it to a whole 'nother level! This is fabulous! lol

Posted by: mak75231 at April 14, 2011 10:51 AM

I wonder most about Logan because that just doesn't make any sense whatso ever. And I am sure more than 2 people have read to the end, it's interesting!

Posted by: Mineola at April 14, 2011 10:58 AM

You do have an interesting subject there! I am sure many of us have had headaches figuring this out.

To add to the obscurity, an interesting situation too is the not mentioned premise of the Boarding House were Pearl & Tomb Vamps were staying and Stefan got tortured.
Damon couldn't get in and the landlady was compelled to never let him in. When he went back with Alaric, he got in. The question is: is this because Alaric invited him and could invite him in as in being a guest or because Damon killed the lady out on the porch, the house didn't have an owner at that time and he's free to enter? Depending on the lady's last will, the house would switch ownership to the bank and we end up in the situation of Isobel's forclosures or to a person who would inherite the house. The new owner should be the one to invite vamps.

So my feeling all together is that they do not really need to be the owner of the property, they could be a guest aswell. Maybe even Logan could have got his appartment back if he got someone to invite him into his own house. :P

Posted by: Josy at April 14, 2011 11:25 AM

Hahah, I'm not sure I understood all of it but still very entertaining :D I've definitely thought about this, it doesn't always make sense. As you said, maybe this isn't the best way to spend our time but can't really drop it. ;)
I think it should be enough for Elena to move in with them? But maybe they give it to her to be certain. And since they supposely are dead they can't really own even part of a house? Not without some compelling anyway...
thnx for the thoughts and I think the show should talk to you before the next invitation to/from anyone of any kind ;)

Posted by: Beata at April 14, 2011 12:51 PM

I'd always assumed that Zach owned the Salvatore boarding house & since no one knows he's dead, the 'authorities' leave him & the house alone. I'm pretty sure after Zach's death any vampire could walk into the boarding house. I figured that when Damon got Elena to sign the contract he was somehow legally passing ownership from Zach to Elena.. does that make any sense?!

I think all other other stuff would make sense if you assumed that you could be 'invited in' just by someone who was living in the house (covers Jenna, John, Jeremy, Elena, Tyler.. people renting places) but then it makes the whole signing over of the Salvatore boarding house to Elena a bit unnecessary..

Posted by: Emily at April 14, 2011 03:21 PM

as a 2nd year law student in France I also was kinda bothered with all the paperwork in the show last week and I'm glad you exposed all the theories. I read you post until the end and it's very interesting!

Posted by: maya at April 14, 2011 07:09 PM

Okay so I wasn't sure about answers to this but watching the show this week, I have a few ideas.

First on the apartment/dorm thing, Damon mentioned to Alaric in S1 that those are tricky and sometimes you can get in, sometimes you can't. I wonder if that's a case of a corporate owner or a private owner.

Second with foreclosures, I'm assuming that banks don't count. If the name on the deed is a non-human entity, the vampire could walk in. Which would explain why some apartments are open and some aren't. Like if Logan's apartments are owned by a person and not a bank, it makes sense why he couldn't get in.

But the whole deed thing-I have a theory. So technically, the Gilberts left their house to Jeremy & Elena, hence the ability to invite people in. Jenna was made their legal guardian, which I would assume means that until both kids are 18, Jenna is, in a roundabout way, an owner of the house. So she can invite people in. John, however is both executor of the estate (that is mentioned in S1 and John even tells Jenna that Elena & Jeremy can't sell off property without his permission) and Elena's dad. As long as Elena is a minor, wouldn't John then have temporary ownership of anything she owns? IE: the Gilbert house. Like Jenna, John, in a roundabout way, owns the house and therefore can invite people in.

I'm taking a guess that Mrs Lockwood inherited the house but that Tyler is listed on her will as inheriting the house next. Which would set the paperwork in order to make him an owner of the house. It seems that if someone is listed as a current, temporary or future owner on official documents, they have ownership authority immediately and can issue an invitation.

In S1, Zach says that Damon only allows Zach to live there, that its not his house. I've always been under the impression that the deed actually has Damon & Stefan's name on it and that they either compel authorities not to notice or everyone just assumes the next generation of Salvatores inherits the house. Who's going to go poking around at ownership documents?

To the 3rd PS: I think it does have to be a spoken invite. Trudie in S1 implied an invite but didn't say it out loud to see if Elena could enter so it seems a clear, audible invite is necessary.

Posted by: Melissa at April 15, 2011 04:26 AM
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