In real estate, we hear about water rights, mineral rights, and the bundle of rights. But what about artistic rights? It’s not common for art to come up in real estate transactions. But with the trend of street art growing in Los Angeles, buyers and owners of real estate need be aware.
What can be seen as vandalism could be worth a lot of money. In 2008, that’s what a gas station owner in Los Angeles discovered when he woke up to the sight of a little girl painted on the side of his building. Short of calling a graffiti mitigation company, he ended up chiseling the whole wall out to preserve the painting. In 2013 the piece of wall fetched over $200,000. The painting, dubbed “Flower Girl,” was by Banksy, a world-renowned street artist.
“With so much money on the line, this can lead to expensive legal disputes,” says Morvareed Salehpour, a real estate attorney specializing in these matters.
To this point, she cites the groundbreaking 5Pointz judgement, where a warehouse owner allowed graffiti artists to paint on his building, which became a sort of graffiti mecca. When the owner removed the graffiti overnight, several artists sued the owner and won a $6.7 million judgement.
“It’s not a light matter,” Salehpour says. “Awareness is key. Owners and buyers need to be conscious and protect themselves.”
Salehpour recommends that owners commissioning or allowing any art to be displayed on their building—be it free or paid—seek legal counsel to ensure contracts are in place granting them full ownership rights. Not doing so could restrict the free use of their own building and eventually even affect resale value.
To buyers, Salehpour says, question the big painting on the wall. Is it included in the sale? If so, what rights come with it? Can I remove it? Can I sell it?
Bottom line, don’t ignore the painting on the side of the wall. What might seem like vandalism could be worth a lot of money, or be the source of legal disputes. Sellers, get contracts. Buyers, ask to see them.
About Morvareed Salehpour: She earned a degree in Political Science, summa cum laude, from UCLA in 2007 and received her JD from the UCLA School of Law in 2010. She is a Managing Partner at Salehpour Legal Consulting, where they offer solutions to startups, businesses, and entrepreneurs in a variety of industries including technology, blockchain, media, entertainment, retail, real estate, cannabis, and food and beverage. Learn more at www.salehpourlaw.com.
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About the Writer: Daniel Rangel is a real estate agent. "I love doing these interviews. Aside from fun, they give me access to knowledge, which I pass down to my clients.