It's Back to Basics time today! And today's topic is one that has caused much confusion even among experienced Second Lifers, because the terms used are slippery, and it's very common for two people to be using the same word to describe different things.
Yes, dear readers, I'm going to talk about virtual land again.
In one sense, all of the land in Second Life is owned by Linden Lab (it's their servers, after all) and only rented by us Residents. But in SL terms, we usually think of the land "owner" as the resident who pays Linden Lab a monthly fee for the land.
On the Mainland, this is pretty straightforward. If you buy the land, then you pay LL tier on it. You are the "owner" and only LL can kick you off your land. You can also RENT land on the mainland, paying another resident, the landlord, a weekly or monthly fee in $L. In this case, the landlord is the owner, and has the power to kick you off if you don't pay on time or otherwise are a nuisance.
But then we come to Private Estates. The only true "owner" of a Private region on SL is the estate owner, who pays a monthly fee to LL. That fee is $295 USD per month, or $125 USD for a Homestead region. If you are not paying LL this fee, you are not the true owner, you are only "leasing" the land from the estate owner.
It may appear that you are the owner. When you leased the land, the estate owner probably called the transaction a "purchase". You may be listed as the owner in About Land. You may have full land management abilities...terraforming, setting object entry and build permissions, allowing some avatars and excluding others. But unless you own the entire region, and are paying LL directly, YOU DON'T OWN THE LAND. The Estate Owner does. If there is a dispute between you, or the estate owner goes out of business, or the region is sold to another estate owner, you could find yourself kicked off your land with no notice.
That's the risk when you lease a land parcel from a private estate owner, and it's why you should research the owner before getting land on an estate. How long have they been in business? How many regions do they own? What's the occupancy rate? What's their reputation with their tenants and former tenants? How well do they communicate with you and answer your questions?
A good estate owner can (and should!) make your land-owning experience on their estate pleasant. A good owner will respond quickly to resolve problems, whether it's poor region performance, a griefer attack, or a dispute with a neighbor. Estate owners are, after all, in competition with each other and with LL for your virtual land dollar. It's a highly competitive business, and poor ones don't stay in business very long. And that is the upside to owning land on an estate...an owner who is more responsive to your needs than Linden Lab.
The same could be said of Mainland landlords. They have somewhat less control over their land compared to a Private Estate owner (they cannot re-start regions, for example, and must ask LL to do it) but on the other hand, Mainland locations offer direct access to large, connected areas of land and sea to explore. Some mainland landlords are not responsive to tenants, while others work to make your stay on their land an enjoyable one.
You can, in fact, actually buy a whole region from an estate owner and become the new estate owner. This can save you a lot of money over buying a private region directly from LL ($1,000 USD setup fee). An estate owner anxious to get out from under may sell you his region for $500, $200, or even less. Be sure that you use the proper procedure for this type of transfer. DO NOT pay the estate owner directly. Once you have agreed on a price, you both submit support tickets to LL, and you send the money to LL, who acts as the "escrow agent". When the transfer is complete, you get the region and LL sends the money to the seller. ANY OTHER transaction with an estate owner is not a true purchase...it's a lease.