Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Freehold Definition:

Use of real estate for an indeterminate time.

Related Terms: Seisin, Fee Simple, Feudal System, Socage

A special right granting the full use of real estate for an indeterminate time. It differs from leasehold, which allows possession for a limited time.

As Justice O'Neill of the Court of Appeals of Ohio wrote in Cunningham v. Crabbe:

"A freeholder is defined as the owner of a freehold estate having legal title thereto.

"A freehold estate is an interest in land, the duration of which is not fixed by a specified or certain period of time, but which must, or at least may, last during the lifetime of some person."

Consider also these words of the Michigan Court of Appeals in Stroh Estate:

"Seisin is the actual possession of land with the intention of asserting a freehold estate therein. A freehold is an estate for life or in fee."

There are varieties of freehold such as fee simple and fee tail.

The owner of the freehold is called a freeholder.

In Stuartburn v Kiansky, Justice Wright of the Court of Queen's Bench of Manitoba wrote at ¶15-18:

"What then is a freehold estate? Freehold is a measure of the nature and degree of a person's interest in land. It includes a life interest and a fee simple. Both are for an indeterminate period. The life interest will expire on the death of the owner (or tenant as it is often termed). The fee simple may be inherited.

"At common law, both the life interest and the fee simple could be alienated but any disposition was subject to the limitations of the freehold. The fee simple interest is the broadest freehold.

"The word estate, when used in conjunction with freehold can be thought of as synonymous with the words "right", title and "interest" Thus, freehold estate can be interpreted to mean a freehold right, title, or interest in land."

As to the origin of the term, Burn & Cartwright wrote:

"Estates are sub-classified into those of freehold and those of less than freehold. Into which of these categories they fell depended in the earliest days upon the quality of the tenure by which the estate owner held his land. A tenant in knight service, sergeantly, socage or frankalmoin was called a freeholder since the service due from him were free from servile incidents. He was said to have a frank tenement or freehold estate to distinguish him from a villein tenant."


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