Do you still own your land if it is covered by a lava flow?

In recent months there has been considerable news in Hawaii, the mainland and also internationally regarding the lava flows that are covering the Puna District of the Big Island. Lava flows are not a recent aberration in Hawaiian history but this particular flow which began in 1983 is actually the longest continuous flow in the past 1000 years.

During the course of this most recent 25 year stint of flows they have covered approximately 45 square miles of existing land and have destroyed over 190 homes, an ancient Hawaiian Heiau and cut roads off from the outside world. New land has been forged into the oceans as well creating new oceanfront properties. All the new land has been claimed by the State of Hawaii but the old covered land is still considered to be under the ownership of the existing owner previous to the lava overflows. Owners of the land indeed still need to pay taxes on their now covered real estate. You might be surprised to know that this land is even for sale and there are buyers who are buying it. Some lots covered by the flows in the last 25 years are offered for sale for from $12,000 to $25,000 dollars and these prices will buy property with some of the most beautiful ocean views on the planet along with some of the very best weather to be found anywhere. If there is a downside (and there are many) new owners would have to enjoy living on a parcel of land completely devoid of vegetation, with sparse access, with no utilities requiring water catchment construction and generators for electric power, and of course always have in the back of their mind that the property could be run over by lava again in the near future.

Still, many people do buy these parcels. At this point they are primarily from California and other U.S. states and are people who have the money to invest and to lose. Since this portion of the Big Island is relatively depressed in terms of availability of jobs it is not a place where people can work and pay for a mortgage even at these astounding low prices. So the people who gravitate to these areas are people who are often entrepreneurs who can operate their business from anywhere or who plan to just retire here given the conditions that they know exist.

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