The definition of emblements in real estate is very simple: emblements are the crops grown on a piece of property leased to a tenant. Legally, the crops are the property of the person who worked to raise them, regardless whether they own the property on which the crops were grown or not. Even if the tenant of the landowner no longer lives on the tract of land, the emblements remain the personal property of the tenant who raised them.
Emblements also concern issues of inheritance in the event of a tenant’s death. If a tenant dies and their contract with the landlord is terminated, any crops the tenant cultivated are the property of the next of kin. While the crops grown on a small plot of land may seem insignificant, emblements can present a significant amount of capital when you take into account larger leases on 1000+ acre plots for industrial farming operations.
Let’s illustrate the concept of emblements in real estate with a hypothetical scenario where Christie, a single mother of two, lives on a ten-acre tract of land leased from her landlord, Fred. Christie wants to provide a more holistic diet for her kids, so she decides to till a ¼ acre or so of the land she leases from Fred, so she can plant some tomatoes, peas, carrots and radishes.
With this plan in mind, Christie makes the necessary preparations to begin growing her garden. She buys a used tiller, and spends several hours laboring behind the unwieldy machine until the whole plot is cultivated. She buys tomato, carrot and radish seeds from her local hardware store and plants them with great care, making sure to water them daily, fertilize regularly and keep the beds free of weeds.
Five or six weeks later, the plants are nearing maturity. Green tomatoes are hanging from the juvenile tomato plants, and the fluffy tufts of carrot and radish stems and leaves are rich and green. Just as things are getting good with the garden, tragedy strikes: Christie falls sick and has to move closer to the city, and terminates her lease agreement with her landlord Fred. So, what happens to the garden?
This is where emblements and their accompanying legal properties come into play. First, you have to make a couple of important distinctions. First and most importantly, to be emblements and therefore the property of the tenant or former tenant, the crops have to be cultivated, not naturally occurring. For example, the crops in this scenario (tomatoes, carrots, radishes) would be considered emblements, whereas something naturally occurring, such as wild blackberries, would not.
Emblements can sometimes cause problems when buying or selling a home. Since emblements are passed down to the heir if a tenant dies the crops can continue to belong to someone other than the ower. Emblements are only annual crops or those which require labor so it is advisable to ask your agent to provide you with exact documents clarifying the status of the land and crops.