Mistranslations (?) of Derecho hipotecario

“Mistranslations?” includes examples of what I believe may be considered mistranslations that I have encountered over a twenty-five year period while working as a legal translator and teacher of legal English in Spain. Some may be actual mistranslations, while others are perhaps all-too-literal renderings of expressions that may have sufficiently close counterparts (“functional equivalents”) in the other language. Still others are translations that may simply not be accurate in the context in which they originally appeared.

Derecho hipotecario; Ley hipotecaria

Translators unfamiliar with Spanish law often automatically assume that the adjectives hipotecario and hipotecaria refer exclusively to mortgages (hipotecas). Thus there is an assumption that Derecho hipotecario is limited to “mortgage law” and that ley hipotecaria refers to legislation specifically governing mortgages, and these mistakes have found their way into several bilingual legal dictionaries. Although traditionally called Derecho hipotecario, in Spain this branch of law actually concerns the registration of rights in real property on the Land Register (Registro de la Propiedad). The fact that Derecho hipotecario is a misnomer (and that Derecho inmobiliario registral is a more accurate term) has been recognized in several Spanish legal sources. Luis Ribó Durán in his Diccionario de Derecho (Bosch, 2005) explains that “Derecho hipotecario es la parte del Derecho que estudia la adquisición, transmisión, modificación y extinción de los derechos sobre bienes inmuebles en cuanto éstos se reflejan en el Registro de la Propiedad. (…) La denominación Derecho inmobiliario registral, posiblemente la más adecuada, ha sido muchas veces postergada ante la de Derecho hipotecario, de más rancia tradición al enlazar con el nombre de la ley especial que, antes de la promulgación del vigente Código Civil, desmarcó de éste la materia inmobiliaria registral…”. Likewise, in its article on “Derecho inmobiliario registral,” the Gran Enciclopedia Rialp (1991) notes that “generalmente, entre los autores españoles, se llama ‘Derecho hipotecario,’ denominación que obedece al título de la ley que regula la materia, la Ley Hipotecaria. Es claro que el nombre de la ley no responde a su contenido, pues en ella se regula, además de la hipoteca, todo referente al Registro de la Propiedad.” Thus, rendering Derecho hipotecario as “mortgage law” is misleading, while a translation that accurately reflects the true content of this legal discipline in Spain might be “Law of Land (or) Real Estate Registration” or “Land (or) Real Estate Registration Law,” etc. (The Registro de la Propiedad for England and Wales is called the “Land Registry.” There is no centralized land register for real property in the US where real estate is recorded in the state where it is located.)

Similarly, Ley Hipotecaria cannot really be appropriately translated as “Mortgage Act,” as it is often rendered. Although as indicated above, Articles 104-197 of the Ley Hipotecaria deal with mortgages per se, the remaining 329 articles regulate land registration and determine how the property registry (Registro de la Propiedad) is to be organized and the duties of property registrars (Registradores de la Propiedad). Thus, in this case Ley Hipotecaria might be more properly translated as “Land Registration Act” or “(Real) Property Registration Act,” while there are other laws that might indeed be accurately described as “mortgage acts,” such as the Ley del Mercado Hipotecario (“Mortgage Market Act”).

In other respects, the expression Distrito Hipotecario, sometimes rendered as “Mortgage District,” actually refers to a “land (or) property tax district.” And Oficina Liquidadora del Distrito Hipotecario denotes a “district land (or) property tax office” in charge of collecting transfer taxes and stamp duties levied on the transfer of real property and other transactions (impuestos sobre transmisiones patrimoniales y actos jurídicos documentados), as well as inheritance and gift taxes (impuestos sobre sucesiones y donaciones).

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