This house is somebody’s ‘real property’ or right in rem
Property law governs everything that people call ‘theirs’. Real property, sometimes called ‘real estate’ or a right in rem refers to ownership of land and things attached to it. Personal property, or a right in personam refers to everything else, movable objects, like computers or sandwiches or intangible rights, like company shares or a copyright on a song. The classic civil law approach to property, propounded by Friedrich Carl von Savigny is that it is a right good against the world. This contrasts to an obligation, like a contract or tort, which is a right good between individuals. Preferred in common law jurisdictions is an idea closer to an obligation; that the person who can show the best claim to a piece of property, against any contesting party, is the owner. The idea of property also raises important philosophical and political issues. John Locke famously argued that our ‘lives, liberties and estates’ are our property because we own our bodies and mix our labour with our surroundings. Many thinkers have criticised property since. Pierre Proudhon most famously proclaimed, ‘property is theft’.
Regulations on the use of personal property fall under intellectual property, company law, trusts and so on. Land law is the basis for most kinds of property law and concerns mortgages, rental agreements, licences, convenants, easements and the statutory systems for registration of land.