Possession (law)

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In law, possession is the control a person intentionally exercises toward a thing. In all cases, to possess something, a person must have an intention to possess it. A person may be in possession of some property (although possession does not always imply ownership). Like ownership, the possession of anything is commonly regulated by country under property law.

Contents

Intention to possess

An intention to possess (sometimes called animus possidendi) is the other component of possession. All that is required is an intention to possess something for the time being. In common law countries, the intention to possess a thing is a fact. Normally, it is proved by the acts of control and surrounding circumstances.

It is possible to intend to possess something without knowing that it exists. For example, if you intend to possess a suitcase, then you intend to possess its contents, even though you do not know what it contains. It is important to distinguish between the intention sufficient to obtain possession of a thing and the intention required to commit the crime of possessing something illegally, such as banned drugs, firearms or stolen goods. [1] The intention to exclude others from the suitcase and its contents does not necessarily amount to the guilty mind of intending to possess illegally.

When people possess places to which the public has access, it may be difficult to know whether they intend to possess everything within those places. In such circumstances, some people make it clear that they do not want possession of the things brought there by the public. For example, it is not uncommon to see a sign above the coat rack in a restaurant which disclaims responsibility for items left there.

Importance of possession

Possession is one of the most important concepts in property law. There are three related and overlapping but not identical legal concepts: possession, right of possession and ownership.

In common law countries, possession is itself a property right. The owner of a property has the right of possession and may assign that right wholly or partially to another who may then also assign the right of possession to a third party. For example, an owner of residential property may assign the right of possession to a property manager under a property management contract who may then assign the right of possession to a tenant under a rental agreement. There is a rebuttable presumption that the possessor of property also has the right of possession, and evidence to the contrary may be offered to establish who has the legal right of possession to determine who should have actual possession, which may include evidence of ownership (without assignment of the right of possession) or evidence of a superior right of possession without ownership. Possession of a thing for long enough can become ownership by termination of the previous owner's right of possession and ownership rights. In the same way, the passage of time can bring to an end the owner's right to recover exclusive possession of a property without losing the ownership of it, as when an adverse easement for use is granted by a court.

In civil law countries, possession is not a right but a (legal) fact which enjoys certain protection by the law. It can provide evidence of ownership but it does not in itself satisfy the burden of proof. For example, ownership of a house is never proven by mere possession of a house. Possession is a factual state of exercising control over an object, whether owning the object or not. Only a legal (possessor has legal ground), bona fide (possessor does not know he has no right to possess) and regular possession (not acquired through force or by deceit) can become ownership over passage of time. A possessor enjoys certain judicial protection against third parties even if he is not the owner.

There may be varying degrees of rights to possession. For example, if you leave a book that belongs to you at a cafe and the waiter picks it up, you have lost possession. When you return to recover the book, even though the waiter has possession, you have a better right to possession and the book should be returned. This example demonstrates the distinction between ownership and possession: throughout the process you have not lost ownership of the book although you have lost possession at some point; or instead, the book may have been owned by a third party (such as a lending library) throughout, despite the changes in possession.

Obtaining possession

Possession requires both control and intention. It is obtained from the first moment that both those conditions exist simultaneously. Usually, intention precedes control, as when you see a coin on the ground and reach down to pick it up. Nevertheless, it is conceivable that a person might obtain control of a thing before forming the intention to possess it. If unknowingly sat on and therefore had control of a $10 note on the seat of a train, he or she could obtain possession by becoming aware of the note and forming the intention to possess it. People can also intend to possess things left, without their knowledge, in spaces they control.

Possession can be obtained by a one-sided act by which factual control is established. This can take the form of apprehension (taking an object not in someone's possession) or seizure (taking an object in someone's possession). It can also be obtained through a two-sided process of handing over the possession from one party to another. The party handing over possession must intend to do so.

Most property possessed is obtained with the consent of someone else who possessed it. They may have been purchased, received as gifts, leased, or borrowed. The transfer of possession of goods is called delivery. For land, it is common to speak of granting or giving possession.

A temporary transfer of possession is called a bailment. Bailment is often regarded as the separation of ownership and possession. For example, the library continues to own the book while you possess it and will have the right to possess it again when your right comes to an end. A common transaction involving bailment is a conditional sale or hire-purchase, in which the seller lets the buyer have possession of the thing before it is paid for. The buyer pays the purchase price in installments and, when it is fully paid, ownership of the thing is transferred from seller to buyer.

It is possible to obtain possession of a thing without anyone else's consent. First, you might take possession of something which has never been possessed before. This can occur when you catch a wild animal; or create a new thing, such as a loaf of bread. Secondly, you might find something which someone else has lost. Thirdly, you might take something from another person without their consent. Possession acquired without consent is a property right which the law protects. It gives rise to a right of possession which is enforceable against everyone except those with a better right to possession.

Forms of transferring possession

There are various forms of transferring possession. One can physically hand over the object (e.g. handing over a newspaper bought at the newsstand) but it is not always necessary for the party to literally grab the object for possession to be considered transferred. It is enough that the object is within the realm of factual control (e.g. leaving a letter in the letterbox). Sometimes it is enough for a symbol of the object which enables factual control to be handed over (e.g. handing over the keys to a car or a house). One may also choose to terminate possession, as one throws a letter in the trash. Possession includes having the opportunity to terminate possession.

See also

Related Research Articles

Property in the abstract is what belongs to or with something, whether as an attribute or as a component of said thing. In the context of this article, it is one or more components, whether physical or incorporeal, of a person's estate; or so belonging to, as in being owned by, a person or jointly a group of people or a legal entity like a corporation or even a society. Depending on the nature of the property, an owner of property has the right to consume, alter, share, redefine, rent, mortgage, pawn, sell, exchange, transfer, give away or destroy it, or to exclude others from doing these things, as well as to perhaps abandon it; whereas regardless of the nature of the property, the owner thereof has the right to properly use it, or at the very least exclusively keep it.

Property law is the area of law that governs the various forms of ownership in real property (land) and personal property. Property refers to legally protected claims to resources, such as land and personal property, including intellectual property. Property can be exchanged through contract law, and if property is violated, one could sue under tort law to protect it.

Theft Act of taking anothers property without permission or consent

Theft is the taking of another person's property or services without that person's permission or consent with the intent to deprive the rightful owner of it. The word theft is also used as an informal shorthand term for some crimes against property, such as burglary, embezzlement, larceny, looting, robbery, shoplifting, library theft or fraud. In some jurisdictions, theft is considered to be synonymous with larceny; in others, theft has replaced larceny. Someone who carries out an act of or makes a career out of theft is known as a thief.

Larceny is a crime involving the unlawful taking or theft of the personal property of another person or business. It was an offence under the common law of England and became an offence in jurisdictions which incorporated the common law of England into their own law, where in many cases it remains in force.

In property law, a title is a bundle of rights in a piece of property in which a party may own either a legal interest or equitable interest. The rights in the bundle may be separated and held by different parties. It may also refer to a formal document, such as a deed, that serves as evidence of ownership. Conveyance of the document may be required in order to transfer ownership in the property to another person. Title is distinct from possession, a right that often accompanies ownership but is not necessarily sufficient to prove it. In many cases, possession and title may each be transferred independently of the other. For real property, land registration and recording provide public notice of ownership information.

Adverse possession, sometimes colloquially described as "squatter's rights", is a legal principle under which a person who does not have legal title to a piece of property — usually land — acquires legal ownership based on continuous possession or occupation of the property without the permission of its legal owner.

Homestead principle legal principle that you own unclaimed natural resources by first using them

The homestead principle is the principle by which one gains ownership of an unowned natural resource by performing an act of original appropriation. Appropriation could be enacted by putting an unowned resource to active use, joining it with previously acquired property or by marking it as owned.

The bundle of rights is a metaphor to explain the complexities of property ownership. Law school professors of introductory property law courses frequently use this conceptualization to describe "full" property ownership as a partition of various entitlements of different stakeholders.

An assignment is a legal term used in the context of the law of contract and of property. In both instances, assignment is the process whereby a person, the assignor, transfers rights or benefits to another, the assignee. An assignment may not transfer a duty, burden or detriment without the express agreement of the assignee. The right or benefit being assigned may be a gift or it may be paid for with a contractual consideration such as money.

Chose is a term used in common law tradition to refer to rights in property, specifically a combined bundle of rights. A chose describes the enforcement right which a party possesses in an object. The use of chose extends from the English use of French within the courts. In English and commonwealth law, all personal things fall into one of two categories, either choses in action or choses in possession. English law uses a chose to refer to a bundle of rights, traditionally relating to property which may be utilised in certain circumstances. Thus, a chose in action refers to a bundle of personal rights which can only be enforced or claimed by a chose-holder bringing an action through the court to enforce the action. In English law, this category is enormously wide. This is contrasted with a chose in possession which represents rights which can be enforced or acquired by taking physical possession of the chose. This may be, for example a legal mortgage. Both choses in possession and choses in action create separate proprietary interests. What differs between each is the method in which each chose may be enforced. This is dependent on the possessory nature of the reference object.

Jus tertii is the legal classification for an argument made by a third party which attempts to justify entitlement to possessory rights based on the showing of legal title in another person. By showing legitimate title in another person, jus tertii arguments imply that the present possessor’s interest is illegitimate or that the present possessor is a thief.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and introduction to tort law:

Non-possession is a philosophy that holds that no one or anything possesses anything. It is one of the principles of Satyagraha, a philosophical system based on various religious and philosophical traditions originating in India and Asia Minor, and put into practice by Mahatma Gandhi as part of his nonviolent resistance. This particular iteration of aparigraha is distinct because it is a component of Gandhi's active non-violent resistance to social problems permeating India. As such, its conception is tempered with western law. Non-possession is, by definition, concerned with defining the concept of possession.

Usucapio was a concept in Roman law that dealt with the acquisition of ownership of something through possession. It was subsequently developed as a principle of civil law systems, usucaption. It is similar to the common law concept of adverse possession, or acquiring land prescriptively.

Abandonment (legal) Relinquishment under law

In law, abandonment is the relinquishment, giving up or renunciation of an interest, claim, civil proceedings, appeal, privilege, possession, or right, especially with the intent of never again resuming or reasserting it. Such intentional action may take the form of a discontinuance or a waiver. This broad meaning has a number of applications in different branches of law. In common law jurisdictions, both common law abandonment and statutory abandonment of property may be recognized.

An easement is a nonpossessory right to use and/or enter onto the real property of another without possessing it. It is "best typified in the right of way which one landowner, A, may enjoy over the land of another, B". It is similar to real covenants and equitable servitudes; in the United States, the Restatement (Third) of Property takes steps to merge these concepts as servitudes.

South African property law

South African property law regulates the "rights of people in or over certain objects or things." It is concerned, in other words, with a person's ability to undertake certain actions with certain kinds of objects in accordance with South African law. Among the formal functions of South African property law is the harmonisation of individual interests in property,the guarantee and protection of individual rights with respect to property, and the control of proprietary relationships between persons, as well as their rights and obligations. The protective clause for property rights in the Constitution of South Africa stipulates those proprietary relationships which qualify for constitutional protection. The most important social function of property law in South Africa is to manage the competing interests of those who acquire property rights and interests. In recent times, restrictions on the use of and trade in private property have been on the rise.

The South African law of sale is an area of the legal system in that country that describes rules applicable to a contract of sale, generally described as a contract whereby one person agrees to deliver to another the free possession of a thing in return for a price in money.

Theft by finding occurs when someone chances upon an object which seems abandoned and takes possession of the object but fails to take steps to establish whether the object is genuinely abandoned and not merely lost or unattended. In some jurisdictions the crime is called "larceny by finding" or "stealing by finding".

Property lawin the United States is the area of law that governs the various forms of ownership in real property and personal property, including intangible property such as intellectual property. Property refers to legally protected claims to resources, such as land and personal property. Property can be exchanged through contract law, and if property is violated, one could sue under tort law to protect it.

References

  1. He Kaw Teh v R [1985] HCA 43 , (1985) 157 CLR 523(11 July 1985), High Court (Australia).

Decker, John F. "Illinois Criminal Law." Newark, NJ: Matthew Bender & Co. 4th Ed. 2006.