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)

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