Mistranslation: “Property Law” is not Derecho de propiedad

Although this mistranslation appears in several Internet sources, these two expressions are definitely not equivalent. We’ll look at this in more detail below, but the first step is to note that “property law” is a broad area of law that generally corresponds in Spanish to what is referred to as Derecho de cosas (property law) or derechos reales (rights in property). In contrast, propiedad, also known as dominio (ownership) is only one aspect of this likewise broad area of derechos reales.

To illustrate this, it’s helpful to compare the partial content of a typical US property law course syllabus with part of a Spanish Manual de Derecho Civil that deals with Derecho de cosas or derechos reales:

Property Law Course Syllabus:Manual de Derecho de cosas (or) derechos reales:
–The Nature of Property
–Acquisition of Property
–Adverse Possession
–Acquisition by Gift
–Estates in Land: fee simple, life estates, defeasible estates and future interests
Concurrent Ownership
–Landlord-Tenant Relationships
–Real Estate Contracts; Deeds
–Land Registration
–Eminent domain
–Personal Property and Bailments
–(etc.; etc.)
–Adquisición de los derechos reales (ocupación; accesión; usucapión)
Propiedad; copropiedad
–Derecho de uso
–Derecho de habitación
–Derecho de superficie
–Derechos reales de garantía (prenda; hipoteca
–Derechos de adquisición preferente (tanteo; retracto)
–Derecho registral inmobiliario
–(etc.; etc.)

As shown above, ownership (propiedad) is only one of many aspects of “property law” covered in the US syllabus in the section concerning “fee simple*” (absolute ownership, similar to dominio pleno in Spanish law), along with the section on “concurrent ownership” (copropiedad).

As likewise shown above in the Spanish example, propiedad (ownership) is only one of the many rights in property (derechos reales), and is addressed in Spanish civil law textbooks under propiedad and copropiedad.

Thus, Property Law cannot be translated as Derecho de propiedad. But the specific subjective right of derecho de propiedad (with a lowercase “d”) is, among many others, one of the principal rights (ownership) that one may have in property (cosas; bienes). In that regard, propiedad is defined in the Spanish Civil Code as el derecho de gozar y disponer de una cosa, sin más limitaciones que las establecidas en las leyes (art. 348 CC).

(Recap: property law = Derecho de cosas; Régimen jurídico de los derechos reales).

In case they may be of interest, here are links to other blog entries dealing with several aspects of derechos reales and property law:

*Fee simple—the greatest possible estate in land, wherein the owner has the right to use it, exclusively possess it, commit waste upon it, dispose of it by deed or will, and take its fruits. A fee simple represents absolute ownership of land… (West’s Encyclopedia of American Law)

Legal English: confusing terms (advice; advise; advisement)

These look-alike terms are sometimes confused, even by native English speakers. The first two are not necessarily legal terms, but do often appear in legal contexts. “Advice” (consejo) is always a noun: “He gave me some good advice.” “United States Supreme Court judges are appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate.” In contrast, “advise” is a verb meaning “to counsel;” “to give advice” (aconsejar): “The defendant was advised by his attorney not to testify during the trial.” As a verb “advise” can also mean “to inform” (avisar): “Please advise me when you are ready.”

In other respects, “advisement” denotes “careful consideration,” and judges often indicate that they will “take a matter under advisement” when they postpone making a decision until a later date. Thus, the expression “I will take this matter under advisement” implies that the matter in question will be given careful consideration and that a decision will be forthcoming.

Legal False Friends: practicar vs. “practice”

In legal contexts, practicar cannot always be translated literally as “to practice.” In procedural law, for example, practicar la prueba refers to “examining evidence,” while practicar la prueba testifical is specifically the “examining (or) questioning of witnesses” or “taking witness testimony.” Likewise, practicar la notificación de la demanda is one of the ways to express “service of process.”

In tax law, practicar retenciones denotes an employer’s “withholding taxes” from an employee’s paycheck, while practicar reducciones en la declaración del IRPF means “to take deductions on a personal income tax return.” With regard to public registers, practicar la inscripción registral refers to “recording,” “entering” (or) “making an entry” on a register. And the expression practicar un aborto denotes “performing an abortion.”

Similarly, “practice” cannot always be translated as practicar. A common example is to “practice law,” which in Spanish is ejercer la abogacía. In this context the expression “attorney-at-law” denotes an abogado en ejercicio, one who has a “law practice.” And a lawyer who is in business for himself (abogado con despacho propio) is often said to have a “solo practice” and is known as a “solo practitioner.”