Expressing Civil Law Concepts in Common Law Terms: derechos reales

Derechos reales (often called “real rights” en English-speaking civil law jurisdictions) are “rights (or interests) in property” (“property rights;” “rights in rem”) and the expression has sometimes been mistranslated as “real property rights.” However, derechos reales may actually denotee a series of rights or interests in both bienes inmuebles (“real property,” “real estate” or “realty,” sometimes referred to as “immovables”) and bienes muebles (“personal property,” “personalty,” or “chattels”, sometimes referred to as “movables”). Although civil law textbooks may group them differently, traditional classifications of derechos reales include the following:

1) derecho real provisional—temporary rights in property, i.e., posesión (“possession”)

2) derecho real pleno—full rights in property, i.e., dominio (or) propiedad (“ownership”); and

3) derechos reales limitados—limited rights in property, which are subdivided into three large categories:

3.1) derechos reales de goce—rights to the enjoyment of property including usufructo, uso, habitación, servidumbres, censos, enfiteusis, and superficie;

3.2) derechos reales de garantía—security interests in property, including prenda, hipoteca, anticresis, prenda sin desplazamiento de la posesión and hipoteca mobiliaria; and

3.3) derechos de adquisición preferente—preferential rights in the acquisition of property, including tanteo, retracto and opción de compra.

In future posts I will explore the terminology of several of these limited property rights in more detail, but for now here are some useful definitions for some of those that may be less well-known:**

derecho real de goce—enjoyment rights; rights of use and enjoyment; right to use and enjoy another’s property: facultad de uso de las cosas pertenecientes a otro; also called derecho real de disfrute, which implies the use and enjoyment of the proceeds (frutos) from the property

usufructo—right to use and reap the proceeds of another’s property, with the obligation to preserve its form and substance: derecho de usar y percibir los frutos de cosas ajenas, con la obligación de conservar su forma y sustancia; called “usufruct” in English-speaking civilian systems and often translated as “beneficial ownership,” usufructuario or “beneficial owner” denoting the beneficiary of a usufruct,  while the owner of the property given in usufruct is the nudo propietario (“naked owner”).

derecho real de uso—usage rights: derecho de usar una cosa ajena con el derecho a disfrute limitado a las necesidades del usuario y su familia (right to use another’s property with the right to proceeds from the property limited to covering the needs of the user and his family)

derecho real de habitación—dwelling rights; habitation rights; rights of habitation: derecho de ocupar en casa ajena las piezas necesarias para si mismo y las personas de su familia (right to occupy in another’s home the rooms necessary for oneself and one’s family; the beneficiary of dwelling rights is known as an habitacionista (“dwelling/habitation rightsholder”)

servidumbre—easement, also often called “servitude” in English-speaking civil law jurisdictions: gravamen impuesto sobre un inmueble en beneficio de otro perteneciente a distinto dueño (encumbrance imposed on one parcel of land benefiting the owner of another one)

censos—various types of ground rent or annuity rights arrangements: sujeción de un inmueble al pago de un canon o rédito anual en retribución de un capital en dinero o del dominio pleno o menos pleno que se transmite en los mismos bienes (burden on real property consisting of the payment of an annuity in exchange for a cash amount or for the transfer of ownership or lesser rights in that same property)

enfiteusis—emphyteusis, a type of ground rent arrangement, also called censo enfitéutico: cesión del dominio útil de una finca, con reserva del dominio directo y el derecho de recibir a cambio una pensión anual (grant of beneficial ownership in a parcel of land, reserving title to that property and the right to receive an annuity in exchange)

derecho real de superficie—surface rights; building (or) planting rights: facultad de construir o plantar en suelo ajeno por un determinado período de tiempo, adquiriendo la propiedad de lo construido o plantado (right to build or cultivate on another’s land for a given term, acquiring ownership of the building or crops)

derechos reales de garantía—security interests in property

prenda—pledge

hipoteca—mortgage

anticresis—antichresis: facultad del acreedor de ostentar el goce posesorio de un inmueble y de aplicar los frutos percibidos al pago de los intereses, o en su caso, al capital debido (creditor’s right to possession and enjoyment of an item of real property and to apply the proceeds therefrom to the payment of interest, or when warranted, to the capital owed him)

prenda sin desplazamiento de la posesión (often shortened to prenda sin desplazamiento)—nonpossessory pledge; (nonpossesory) security interest in personal property

hipoteca mobiliaria—chattel mortgage

derechos de adquisición preferente—preferential rights in the acquisition of property

tanteo—right of first refusal; first-refusal right; preferential purchase right: facultad de adquirir una cosa que va a ser enajenada a un tercero, por el mismo precio y en las mismas condiciones pactadas entre el vendedor y el tercero (right to purchase property that is going to be sold to a third party, at the same price and under the same conditions agreed between the seller and that third party)

retracto—right to set aside a sale; right to set aside/revoke/vacate a sale or other conveyance after its completion and acquire the item sold: facultad de adquirir una cosa cuando su propietario ya la ha enajenado a un tercero (right to acquire a property when it has already been sold to a third party)

opción de compra—purchase option

**The source of these definitions and a great place to learn more: Carlos Lasarte, Principios de Derecho Civil,” Vols. IV and V (Propiedad y derechos reales de goce; Derechos reales y Derecho hipotecario) Madrid: Marcial Pons, 2002 (there are later editions!)

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