Chapters of the article
What is ownership?
Ownership is the strongest kind of property right. Unlike contractual rights (e.g. lease, contract of sale), which operate only between the parties to the contract, ownership operates against everyone.
Property law has undergone considerable development. In the past, different classes and groups of people were often characterised precisely by whether or not they were allowed to own, for example, land or other property. Ownership of land could be conditional on the right to vote or citizenship. And after all, until relatively recently, “private property” was almost a forbidden concept, since everything was everyone’s. Such restrictions are a thing of the past, at least in our country, and now you are generally limited in owning something only by the size of your bank account.
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So what can you own?
We can say that everything that belongs to someone, i.e. all things tangible and intangible, or rights.
Ownership of tangible things probably needs no further introduction: most of us own a car, a flat or at least a mobile phone or a bicycle. But we can also own various patents, rights, trademarks and other things that, although they may be recorded somewhere on paper or in an electronic database, are generally intangible. A special category is animals, which have long been regarded as things in law. The current Civil Code does not consider them to be things, but we can apply some of its provisions to them, such as the provisions on the contract of sale and so on.
Types and forms of ownership
Ownership can be divided primarily in terms of its subject – i.e. who or how many persons own a particular thing.
- Exclusive ownership – where the owner owns the whole thing and alone. Often used in the context of community of property – to emphasise that within a marriage a particular thing is not part of the community of property (see below) but belongs to one spouse only. However, we cannot exclude the use of this term in another case, where we stress that there is not more than one owner of the property.
- Shared ownership (also sometimes called fractional ownership) – means that one thing belongs to several persons at the same time. However, do not confuse this with a situation where, for example, a property belongs to a cooperative or a legal person, in which case it is not a shared ownership. For example, if you and your two brothers jointly inherit an apartment from your deceased father, you become joint owners. Under joint ownership, each person is legally a co-owner of the entire undivided property and the amount of the individual shares determines, for example, the share in voting (for example, both brothers outvote you on what to do with the flat) or in the distribution of income (for example, from renting the flat, etc.).
- Shared ownership (sometimes also called joint ownership) is a term used in the past, which was later replaced by the term “community of property .” It is a common ownership arrangement within marriage (from which, however, spouses may contractually deviate).
However, the so-called duplicate ownership has nothing to do with co-ownership. This is actually a situation that should not even occur in theory, but in practice does occur from time to time, when two (exclusive) owners are listed in the Land Registry for one and the same property, without being co-owners or spouses. If different deeds are submitted for registration attesting to the ownership of different persons of the same property, this cadastral office is not entitled to assess their validity and cannot refuse to register any for that reason. Therefore, in such a case, it shall register the so-called duplicate ownership by indicating on a separate title deed the ownership of the property in favour of all the owners resulting from the conflicting deeds. In such a case, the cadastral office should notify all the persons concerned and invite them to remedy the situation. This can be achieved through litigation or, for example, by unilateral recognition of another person’s ownership right.
Other forms of ownership are also mentioned for real estate. Sometimes we encounter the terms private or personal ownership (flat in private ownership or flat in OV). However, this is not a special type of ownership regulated by law – in this case it is usually emphasised that it is not cooperative ownership. In this context, we also speak of “transfer of a cooperative apartment to personal ownership.”
The term private ownership can also sometimes be used to distinguish ownership that does not belong to the state, municipalities or regions (or even legal entities).
How can ownership be acquired?
There are several ways to acquire ownership:
- by contract (purchase, gift, exchange),
- bya court decision (e.g. settlement of an inheritance).
- or by operation of law (on the basis of facts specified in the law by appropriation, award, accretion, processing, retention, etc.).
Contractual acquisition of title is the most common. In the case of movable property, title is acquired by the mere effectiveness of the contract. In the case of purchase of an item in a shop, the delivery of the item is also a condition.
Reservation of title is a provision in the purchase contract by which the seller secures payment of the purchase price. It makes the buyer the owner only when the purchase price is paid. Until then, the buyer is merely in possession of the item.
In the case of immovable property that is subject to registration in the Land Registry, ownership is acquired by entry in the relevant Land Registry. The effects of the transfer of ownership of immovable property are therefore always retroactive to the time when the proposal for registration reaches the competent cadastral office.
How does ownership limit us?
In the film The Owners, Jiří Lábus tells his neighbours “I am the owner and I don’t have to do anything!” But he is not quite right, because various circumstances and legal norms can restrict us. In the Civil Code we find a section on “limitations of civil law” which even applies directly to neighbourly relations.
It states, for example, that the owner shall refrain from anything that causes, water, smoke, smells, noise and other similar effects(immission) to enter the land of another owner. If they are intentional, then they are completely forbidden and in the case of unintentional immissions, their reasonableness in relation to local customs is assessed.
We must also not modify our land in such a way that we endanger the stability (support) of neighbouring land. A restriction on the right of ownership is also related to the possibility of entering the neighbour’s land for maintenance or economic purposes, for example. Of course, this must be done to a reasonable extent. These are cases where, for example, the neighbour’s façade, which is falling down, could not be repaired except from our own land.
Ownership also comes with a duty to keep your property safe and secure so that it cannot harm someone else. If this happens, we may be liable for damages. For example, damage can be caused to others by our animals (although the above applies, as they are not things), or by falling pieces of roof from a dilapidated building. We also have a duty to secure our vehicle or weapon, a duty to comply with fire and environmental standards in our building or on our property, etc.). So, we can enjoy ownership of our property as we please, but we must not forget the rights and health of others.
Tip: The most significant interference with property rights is expropriation, which we have discussed in detail in another article.