Property Part A : Let’s own this concept
Whose is this?
It has always been important to identify ownership. This concept is crucial on many levels. For example: an individual or a company wants to identify and protect their belongings; the state wants to know how much each individual or company owns, to determine their tax obligations; in a traffic accident, liability may be assigned to the owner of the vehicle causing the damage (along with the driver/operator); in criminal cases, ownership of stolen, embezzled, or contraband property, or possession of illegal substances is often crucial in determining guilt; and so on.
Ritches or Reaches?
The Greek word for property is «περιουσία» (periousia), which literally translates to “substantive things” (-ousia) that are around you or within reach (peri-). It appears that the concept of owning something derived from the physical act of possessing it, protecting it, claiming it with your actual dominance over it. Hence the ancient Greek word for money, «Δραχμή» (Drachma), which translates to “what you can fit in your palm”, or “what you can grasp.”
Through history, the concept of owning something has been shifted and shaped according to the different structures of organized society. In totalitarian regimes the supreme leader is often considered to be the owner of everything within the boundaries of the state, whereas in democratically structured societies, individuals obtain the right to own property. On the other end of the spectrum, in communal societies, it is typical that all members of the society are co-owners of everything the community owns.
Concepts / Categories / Types of property
Oftentimes it is easier to understand legal contraptions, once we organize them into categories or types. In an attempt to make the legal concept of property more comprehensible, the following definitions can be laid out. This provides a mapping out of the notion of “property”, as it has evolved in the Greek legal system:
– «Ακίνητη Περιουσία» “Real Property” – The term derives from feudal times, when the only “real” property was the one that had to do with land. The Greek term literally translates to “immovable property”, meaning anything that is land or permanently affixed to land (parcels of land, lots, buildings, houses, apartments, barns, vineyards, olive groves, etc.). All real property needs to be registered with the local Land Registries (Υποθηκοφυλακεία) or with the National Cadaster (Κτηματολόγιο).
– «Κινητή Περιουσία» “Chattels” – Greek law is quite “tricky” in its description of “movable property”, simply by stating: “anything that is not immovable property, is movable property,” thus leaving a lot of room for interpretation. Examples of the fluid nature of this definition are as follows: personal belongings, livestock, clothes, jewelry, furniture, appliances, books, goods, tools, etc. Attention, though, must be given to some nuances: a) a plant in a pot is a chattel, but as soon as it is planted, it becomes part of the real estate it sits upon, b) an apple is part of the real estate as long as it is attached to the tree, but the moment you pick it, it becomes movable property, c) the expensive Italian tiles you purchased for the apartment you rent aδre movable property, but as soon as you glue them to the floor of the apartment, they are part of the real property and belong to the landlord.
– “Special types of chattels” – Some movable property are deemed to be very important for organized society, and thus are treated almost as “real property” and special registries are kept, so it is easy to define and claim ownership. Examples include vehicles (cars, motorcycles, tractors, trucks, ambulances, etc.), ships, boats, ferries, planes, and helicopters. All are registered, not only to protect the rightful owner, but also to determine liability in case of an accident involving them.
– “Immaterial objects” – Greek law gives “legal” substance to some physically immaterial “objects” in order to determine ownership and commercial value to them. This includes utilities, such as electricity, heating, and cooling, which can be measured quantitatively and valued accordingly.
– “Intellectual Property” – Intellectual property is the concept of ownership on the works of the mind, as soon as they are externalized (performed) and/or materialized into a medium (paper, sculpture, data, CD, etc.). There are two main types of intellectual property recognized in Greek law: a) “Copyright,” which means the exclusive legal right, given to an originator or an assignee to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material, and to authorize others to do the same, and b) “Patent,” a government issued license conferring a right or title for a set period of time, especially the sole right to exclude others from making, using, or selling a commercially exploitable invention.
– “Money” – As odd as it might seem, money is not an object in Greece! It is merely a “promise” by the state that the piece of paper (bank note) or metal (coin) has the portrayed buying power, so it can be exchanged for the purchase of equally valued goods or services. The actual paper or metal belongs to the state, but the “promise” belongs to the holder.
– Controlled, dangerous, or illegal objects – Many objects fall within special exceptions according to specific laws within the Greek legal system. Thus, these controlled movable objects cannot be the property of individuals, unless they are licensed. For example: a) Narcotics and pharmaceutical compounds are heavily and strictly controlled. They can only be owned by licensed Physicians, Pharmacists, Pharmaceutical Companies, Hospitals, etc.; b) Firearms, weapons, explosives, corrosive or volatile materials, and the like are also under heavy scrutiny by the state; c) Ancient relics belong to the Greek State. Regardless of where a piece of antiquity is found (on private land or public domain) it must be turned over to the authorities immediately. In some cases, the finder can apply for a permit to keep the artifact; d) Human organs cannot be bought or sold legally, but some parts or derivatives of the human body can be donated (blood, bone marrow, platelets, hair, mother’s milk, eggs, sperm, etc.); e) After a passing, the human body is sacred; it is destined for burial, and cannot be deemed an object. Nevertheless, it can be donated to science and useful organs can be donated to people in need (kidneys, eyes, heart, etc.).
– Public domain – In general, nature and all her components (sun, sea, forests, beaches, mountains, rivers, lakes, etc.) is considered common property and should be freely enjoyed by all, with respect and consideration of everyone’s right to do the same.
We’re not done
One blog article is definitely not enough to deal with a serious and enormous subject like property. Join me soon in Part B, where we will tackle the different types of property rights and the different ways of transferring property. In the meantime, let’s use this Part A as a conversation starter and allow me to help with any legal issues you might have.
As always, I encourage you to ask questions in the comments below.