Property ownership

Property ownership refers to the ownership of property. Property in the legal sense refers to the physically defined part of the earth’s surface that has been assigned a specific number in the inventory of a land register sheet. However, there is no clear and unambiguous legal definition of “property”.1 The material parts of a property are those permanently attached to it. In particular these include buildings, but also products of the land if they are in contact with the ground.2

Ownership for the purposes of civil law is the comprehensive the sovereign right to a thing. The term can be derived from section 903 sentence 1 of the Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (BGB – German Civil Code). The owner of a thing can thus do with it as it wishes and exclude others from any involvement. Under German law, however, certain limitations apply to ownership. For example, the owner of a thing can use it provided that there are no laws or third-party rights preventing this. Consequently, some constitutional laws of a private and public law nature restrict ownership. Examples of these in relation to the ownership of property are neighbourhood rights, regulations of construction, building planning and regional planning law, laws on conservation, historical monuments and environmental protection and traffic law. Restrictions on ownership by third-party rights include the rights to a thing that grant the holders partial rights, such as leaseholds or easements. Normally these rights in rem are allowed by the owner.

Property law distinguishes between different types of ownership: 

  • Sole ownership: The right holder (natural or legal person) has the full and exclusive sovereignty over the property.
  • Property owned in severalty: Several owners possess ideal shares of an unshared thing (sections 1008 et seq. BGB). Thus, each owner holds a certain share of the whole and can dispose of it freely.
  • Joint ownership: Several people jointly have the right to a thing (e.g. a company constituted under civil law, communities of heirs). The owners’ power of disposal is limited. A joint owner cannot freely dispose of “its” share. The authority to use and dispose of a thing lies exclusively with all joint owners.
  • Part, home ownership: In accordance with German Residential Property Act, a person can acquire home ownership of an apartment or part ownership of non-residential premises and dispose of it freely. A component of private property ownership is a corresponding share of the common property.3

There is an even broader interpretation of ownership in the Article 14 of the German Basic Law. Under German Basic Law, this term also relates to receivables and rights (e.g. leaseholds, property liens) in addition to things.4


  • 1 Vgl. Bönker, Christian; Lailach, Martin (2009): Praxisleitfaden Immobilienrecht. Erwerb Finanzierung Bebauung und Nutzung, 2. Aufl. München, S. 43.
  • 2 Vgl. Sailer, Erwin; Grabener, Henning J.; Matzen, Ulf (Hrsg.) (2014): Immobilien-Fachwissen von A-Z. Das Lexikon mit umfassenden Antworten und Erklärungen auf Fragen aus der Immobilienwirtschaft, 10 Aufl. Kiel, S. 311-478.
  • 3 Vgl. Elshorst, David (2014): Eigentum und sonstige Rechte an Grundstücken. In: Usinger, Wolfgang; Minuth, Klaus: Immobilien, Recht und Steuern. Handbuch für die Immobilienwirtschaft, 4. Aufl. Stuttgart, S. 24-26.
  • 4 Vgl. Sailer, Erwin; Grabener, Henning J.; Matzen, Ulf (Hrsg.) (2014): Immobilien-Fachwissen von A-Z. Das Lexikon mit umfassenden Antworten und Erklärungen auf Fragen aus der Immobilienwirtschaft, 10 Aufl. Kiel, S. 311-478.
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http://www.corpus-sireo.com/en/glossary/property-ownership
: 18.09.2019