Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Property Definition:

A comprehensive collection of legal rights over a thing.

Related Terms: Patrimony, Real Property, Immovable, Transfer, Chattel, Personal Property, Intangible Property, Title, Chose In Action

These rights are usually total (commonly described as "ownership") and fully enforceable by the state or the owner through the Court, against others; an unfettered right to use or dispose of a thing.

It has been said that:

"Property and law were born and die together. Before laws were made there was no property. Take away laws and property ceases."


"Property is a relationship among human beings such as that the owner can exclude or permit others to engage in certain activities, and in either case secure the assistance of the law in carrying out (this) decision" (Felix Cohen).

In Manrell v. Canada 2003 FCA 128, published at canlii.org/en/ca/fca/doc/2003/2003fca128/2003fca128.html, the Federal Court of Appeal adopted these words:

"Property is sometimes referred to as a bundle of rights. This simple metaphor provides one helpful way to explore the core concept. It reveals that property is not a thing, but a right, or better, a collection of rights (over things) enforceable against others. Explained another way, the term property signifies a set of relationships among people that concern claims to tangible and intangible items.

"It is implicit in this notion of property that property must have or entail some exclusive right to make a claim against someone else. A general right to do something that anyone can do, or a right that belongs to everyone, is not the property of anyone."

Before laws were written and enforced, property had no relevance. Possession was all that mattered.

There are many classifications of property, the most common being between:

  • real property or immoveable property (real estate such as land or buildings) or personal property, also known as chattels, "goods" or "moveables" (things which are not attached to the land such as a bicycle, a car or a hammer); and
  • public (property belonging to everybody or to the state) or private property.

Personal property is itself subdivided between tangible and intangible property.

The classic example of intangible property is intellectual property but there are others such as a chose in action, licenses, insurance policies, a right to sue or accounts receivable, to name but a few.

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