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Property law

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Main Page > Philosophy of law

Property law is the area of law that rules the various form of possession in real property (land as different from personal or variable possessions) and in personal property, within the common law legal system. In the civil law system, there is a division amid movable and immovable property. Movable property roughly corresponds to personal property, while fixed property corresponds to real estate or real property, and the associated rights and compulsion thereon.

The concept, idea or philosophy of property underlies all property law. In some jurisdictions, historically all property was owned by the monarch and it devolved during feudal land tenure or other feudal systems of loyalty & fealty.

Though the Napoleonic code was among the first government acts of modern times to introduce the notion of absolute ownership into statute, defense of personal property rights was present in medieval Islamic law and jurisprudence, and in more feudalist forms in the common law courts of medieval and early modern England.


In Roman law, property was defined as follows: ius utendi et abutendi re sua, quatenus iuris ratio patitur, 'the right to use and abuse a thing, within the limits of the law'

Modern textbook on property law states:

When a layman is asked to define "property," he is possible to say that "property" is something tangible "owned" by a natural person (or persons), a corporation, or a unit of government. But such a response is inaccurate from a lawyer's perspective for at least two reasons:

  1. it confuses "property" with the various subjects of "property," and
  2. it fails to recognize that still the subjects of property may be intangible.

For a lawyer, "property" is not a "thing" at all, although "things" are the subject of property. Rather, as Jeremy Bentham asserted, property is a lawfully protected "expectation * * * of being able to draw such or such an advantage from the thing" in question.

Property law, in systems derived from English common law, is divided into personal and real property. Gray & Gray (1998) describe the definition of property in the modern sense as oscillating between 'competing models of property as a fact, property as a right, and property as a responsibility' affirmed ownership in and of itself is insufficient to compose property in a legal sense. Rather, the notion of property arises where one can have his/her right to land or chattels respected and enforced by a court of law. Therefore to hold good title (and thus enforceable rights) on property one must acquire it legitimately, according to the laws of the jurisdiction in which one seeks enforcement.


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