Property in the legal sense is something that either belongs to or is associated with something, whether as a physical feature or as an element of that thing. For instance, physical property such as buildings and other structures is something that belongs to the person using it, while abstract property is what happens after the owner uses it. These are often distinguished by the word ‘ownership’. However, there is a difference between these two types of property.
Property is an abstract right, which exists at the same time as ownership. So, when I say that you own a house, I don’t mean ownership. Rather, I am asserting a right to ownership. In contrast, abstract wealth is wealth that is not owned outright but rather that which is still owned in accordance to its value. Thus, some physical properties are owned by someone, and in accordance to their value, and some are owned by things that are not physically attached to anyone, but whose use is tantamount to ownership. The concept of ownership is thus a relative one, dependent on various conditions.
Private property is where people own portions of land individually. A piece of private property can be constructed individually, built upon a piece of land owned by another, and it can be utilized in any way that the owner sees fit. It cannot, however, be privately owned within the meaning of the word, unless and until it is individually used to satisfy the owner’s individual needs. Land, unlike personal possessions, is not necessarily of one individual’s ownership. A piece of land can be jointly owned by two or more individuals.
Property, as we see it, then, exists when it exists individually, and when it is used in accordance with the wishes of its owner. However, the property cannot exist when it does not benefit the owner in any way. If a horse owned the land upon which it was stabled, that would not be considered ownership; however, if the horse’s stable was damaged, then it would be considered to be the property of the owner. Therefore, in this example, both the horse and the man who owned it would be considered to be owners of the property.
In reality, though, property exists in all these forms. Property is abstract. Abstract property is not necessarily confined to a few unique properties, such as a horse. In fact, the list of abstract things is so long and so varied, it would almost seem as if there were property types, of which there are many. One might even call abstract property an infinite number of different types.
A property, then, is something that possesses a specific use. If there is a property without any use, then it would be said to be merely ‘abstract.’ If, on the other hand, a property has a definite use, such as sheltering from the rain, then that would be considered ‘specific’ property. When people talk about abstract and specific property, they usually mean the same thing, only using different words.
In simple terms, then, owning something is defined as possessing the right to use it. This right could be legal or equitable. In legal terms, it is referred to as proprietary rights, since ownership is given by someone else rather than by God (possession predates justice). In the term ‘equitable,’ it is defined as having a legitimate claim to the use of a certain thing. In the English sense, however, ‘right’ seems to imply obligation, to ‘own’ suggests an unlimited right.
It may seem strange to add ‘possession’ to the list of adjectives describing owning something. But that’s because possession is one of the cornerstones of property law. If you own a house, for instance, you have a legal claim to it because you are the sole owner of it. This means that you can change the ownership structure as you please until you sell the house. If you do not own the house outright but simply own it on lease, the landlord has the right to kick you out at any time, thus creating the concept of ‘abstraction,’ which is what we call ownership on the land.