Last edited 22 Sep 2020

Glossary of property law terms

This glossary defines some of the more difficult terms used in property law. You might also like to have a look at our list of industry acronyms.

Adverse possession

Occupation of land inconsistent with the rights of the owner, without the permission of the owner.


The transfer of property from one party to another.

Beneficial interest

The rights of a beneficiary in respect of property under a trust. It is a particular type of equitable interest.

Caveat emptor

Buyer beware


An item of personal property (as opposed to real property).


A system of freehold ownership of units suitable for interdependent buildings such as blocks of flats, based on Australian strata title.

Common law

Rules of law developed from the decisions of the courts of common law.

Constructive trust

A trust imposed by equity (qv) to protect the interests of beneficiaries under a trust.

Unlike an implied trust, it is not normally based on the presumed intention of the parties, but is a device to prevent injustice.

Contingent interest

An interest that can only come into existence on the occurrence of a specified event, e.g. marriage. It cannot be a legal estate, but takes effect as an equitable interest under a settlement.


A promise contained in a deed (e.g. a clause in a lease). The person with the benefit is the covenantee, the person with the burden is the covenantor.

Decennial liability

Decennial liability is a strict form of liability that refers to the insurance taken out by the contractor or design team to cover the 10-year period following a project’s completion. This is to cover the costs in the event of a total or partial collapse of the building, or some latent structural defects that compromise the building’s safety and/or stability.


A special legal document that is clearly intended to be a deed and is signed, witnessed, attested and delivered.

Determinable fee

An interest in land which will automatically come to an end on the occurrence of a specified event. After 1925 it can only exist as an equitable interest.


A creation or transfer of an estate or interest in land.


The right of the owner of one piece of land (the dominant tenement) to a benefit from other land (the servient tenement).

Equitable interest

A right recognised by the courts of equity, as distinct from a legal interest recognised by the courts of common law, e.g. an interest under a trust.


The part of English law originating from decisions of the Lord Chancellor, and later the Courts of Chancery, which grew up to provide a remedy where the common law was inadequate. It is now a regulated set of legal principles.


The character and duration of a person’s ownership of land.

Estate contract

An agreement to create or convey a legal estate, e.g. an option to purchase.

(Equitable) Estoppel

A principle which prevents a person going back on a representation. There are two forms of equitable estoppel:

  • promissory estoppel, which prevents a party going back on a promise not to enforce contractual rights;
  • proprietary estoppel, which prevents a landowner denying that a claimant has acquired rights in his land where he (the landowner) has acquiesced and the claimant has incurred expenditure.


The process of signing, witnessing and attesting a deed.

Fee simple absolute and in possession

A freehold estate in land.


The term used to describe the situation when a seller of property accepts a verbal offer from a potential buyer but subsequently accepts an offer from another party.


Real property capable of being passed.

Implied trust

A trust that arises from the presumed but unexpressed intention of the settlor, or by operation of law.


Incapable of being made void.

Joint tenancy

Ownership of land by two or more persons with identical interests in the whole of it.

Land charge

An obligation imposed on a landowner in favour of a third party’s interest in the land.

Registrable under the Land Charges Act 1972 at the Land Charges Registry if relating to unregistered land. Registrable at the Land Registry if relating to registered land.

Legal estate

Freehold or leasehold ownership of land.

Legal interest

A limited category of interests in land specifically stated by s.1(2) Law of Property Act 1925 to be legal interests, e.g. a legal mortgage.


(In land law.) Permission to enter or occupy land for an agreed purpose. The licensor gives such permission, the licensee is in receipt of the permission.

Life interest

An interest in property which only lasts as long as the life of a particular person. It creates a settlement and can only exist as an equitable interest.

Minor interest

Interests in registered land which must be protected by registration.


An interest in land created as security for a debt. The lender is the mortgagee, the borrower is the mortgagor.

Natural rights

Fundamental rights which automatically belong to a landowner, breach of which will be actionable in nuisance, e.g. right to support from the soil.


The process by which interests in land are converted on a sale of land into rights in the proceeds of sale.

Overriding interest

A right or interest in registered land which is binding on the Registered Proprietor and third parties without being registered, e.g. the rights of persons in actual occupation of the land.

Part performance

(Not to be confused with specific performance.) An equitable doctrine which allowed an imperfect contract to be perfected where it had been acted upon (i.e. partly performed) by one of the parties.

It was particularly applied to contracts for the sale of land, but has effectively been abolished in that context by the Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1989.


A method of acquiring an easement by long user.

Priority of mortgages

The order in which two or more mortgages over the same land will take effect.


The relationship between parties which results from them participating in the same transaction or occurrence; e.g. privity of contract (same agreement) and privity of estate (same legal estate).

Profit à prendre

The right to take produce from another’s land or to graze animals on it.

Puisne mortgage

A legal mortgage in unregistered land in which the mortgagee does not keep the title deeds as security, e.g. a second or subsequent legal mortgage. It must be protected by registration.

Quantum meruit

An obligation to pay a reasonable amount for labour and materials, payable even in the absence of an enforceable agreement.

Quasi ex-contractu

As if from a contract.


Correction of a document.

Redemption (equity of)

The right of the mortgagor to redeem the property on repayment of the mortgage.

Registered land

Land of which the ownership and third party rights affecting it are registered (recorded) at the Land Registry. Proof of ownership is by reference to the Land Registry entries.


An equitable interest in land which only takes effect in possession when a prior interest ends.

Restrictive covenant

A covenant which imposes a restriction on the use of land.

Resulting trust

A trust created by operation of law, sometimes in order to give effect to the presumed but unexpressed intention of the settlor.


The interest in land retained by a person who has granted someone else a lesser interest.

Specific performance

An order of the court forcing a person to fulfil their contractual obligations.

Strict settlement

A trust which creates successive beneficial interests in land (usually with the object of keeping land in a particular family) and which brings it under the control of the Settled Land Act 1925.


Each party to a synallagmatic contract is bound to provide something to the other party – see Essentials of a contract.


The nature of a legal estate.

Term of years absolute

A leasehold estate in land.


Rights of ownership.


A transfer of property to trustee(s) for them to hold it for the benefit of another person(s).

Trust for sale

A trust under which the trustees are obliged to sell the property and hold the proceeds of sale on trust for the beneficiaries.

Trust of land

A trust under which the trustees have the power, but no obligation to sell the property.

The property until sold and any subsequent proceeds of sale are held on trust for the beneficiary(ies).

Unregistered land

Land of which the ownership is not registered (recorded) at the Land Registry.

Ownership is proved by reference to title deeds.

This article was created by --University College of Estate Management (UCEM) 09:32, 12 December 2012 (UTC)

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