THE USUCAPIO OR RIGHT OF BECOMING OWNER OF SOMEONE ELSE’S PROPERTY
I’It’s the turn to write in this weekly column of the Roman Law term USUCAPIO, which means a way to become the new owner of a property that used to belong to someone else in the past (car, furniture, house, boat, etc) after the established term by law (Civil Code) and always challenging it in Court and obtaining the Judge’s Sentence.
Now that the concept of this legal subject has been explained, it’s very important to know that this Usucapio is 2000 years old, and was firstly established and regulated by the Romans, and as Spain was conquered by this culture, and Latin has been so predominant in old Hispania during centuries, that’s why many Roman Law matters have kept until nowadays.
There are four different kinds of Usucapio: Ordinary; Extraordinary; Estate (house, piece of land) or Movable Assets or Bienes Muebles (car, motorbike, furniture, boat,…).
The regulation of the Usucapio is established in the Civil Code (CC), in articles 1931 to 1959 CC, it’s also ruled in articles 35 and 36 of the Mortgage Act (Ley Hipotecaria).
There are four minimum requirements the Usucapio must fulfil:
1.- As a Real Owner: The person who acquire the property or ownership must do it as a real owner and not as a tenant or getting the property as a gift, for example.
2.- Public possession: article 1941 CC says that the usucapiens (who takes the possession) must do it in a public and notorious way, it means he or she should not do it hiding from the current owner or neighbours.
3.- Peaceful possession: peaceful, according to the civil law means without violence at all, and without opposition by a supposed real owner, for example, an inheritor.
4.- Continuous possession: this means the usucapiens claims the property of the asset because since the beginning he or she has been possessing it and nobody has ever claimed Judicially in Court or out of Court.
Now I should let you know the most important aspect regarding this matter, which is the term. You all must make the question, for how long do I have to Possess a property to become the new owner in the Land Registry, so legally?
Here is the answer. It depends on what you have been possessing. Article 1955 CC states that the term for acquiring a movable asset, such as a car or boat is three years, always under good faith by the usucapiens, so the asset must belong to him or her legally (ordinary). And after the term of six years even without good faith, so the asset could have been stolen in case (extraordinary).
On the other hand, articles 1957, 1958 and 1959.2 CC establish three different terms to acquire a property under different requirements. An estate (land or house) could be acquired after just ten years if the former owner has not died or gone to another country. If he or she has died the term now increase ten more years, so it’s twenty years, and always considering the usucapiens’ good faith and showing a title deeds (ordinary usucapio).
And finally, article 1959 CC establishes that even if it’s not under good faith or not existing title deeds an estate could be acquired and legally transferred to the usucapiens after the term of thirty years (extraordinary usucapio).
It’s very important again to remember that all this has to be proved to the Judge and show all the evidences, as much as you can. Even water, electric, telephone or sewage bills could be enough to win the case in Court showing you have been living in the property or using the boat or car for that long.