Under the property common law, “property” is generally divided into two broad categories: real property and personal property. Real property is commonly known as lands and of all attachments to land, such as buildings, crops, or mineral rights. Personal property, on the other hand, is generally defined as movable articles both corporeal, such as furniture or jewelry, or incorporeal, such as stocks or bonds. These definitions are both overly broad and very limiting in their very terms. This sounds contradictory, but consider how you would categorize the property in the following scenarios using only these two definitions:
- I have an online business, operated virtually from my home, and my “product” is articles I write and sell to online publications.
- I rent an apartment but receive funding from a community co-op program to grow sustainable crops on the rooftop.
- I own a horse, which lives on a neighboring farm, but I also allow the owners of the farm to use the horse for riding lessons and some light farm work.
My answers would be very vague. For example, renting an apartment is definitely a “leasehold” or the right to use the real property of another so can fall under the real property definition, but what are my ownership rights in the funding I receive from the co-op program, and who owns the crops I grow on the roof? Is the funding tangible or intangible personal property? Are the crops “attachments” to the apartment building or personal property? These same questions can be asked for each of the scenarios above.
From a legal perspective, the definition of a piece of property is generally the first step needed in figuring out how who owns the property and how it can legally be used and protected. The traditional definitions of property have slowly been changing over the last half of the twentieth century to embrace all of the “new” forms and concepts of property, like those discussed above. You need to consider many factors when deciding what your property really is, like the following:
- What is its purpose? Does it have more than one purpose?
- Who else has access to it besides me?
- Can I convert it from one format to another?
- How easy is it to change its location?
- And many more, depending on the specific piece of property…