Usufruct is a legal concept referring to a right in property which confers on the holder the right to use and benefit from the property without altering, damaging, or destroying it. A usufructary does not own the property but does have a legal interest in it which is sanctioned or contractually allowed by the owner.
A usufructary has two of the three civilian property property interests in the property, usus and fructus— they do not have the interest of abusus, which entitles them to alienate, destroy, consume or sell the property.
The three civilian property interests:
- Usus: The right to use or enjoy a thing posessed, directly and without alteration
- Fructus: The right to derive profit from a thing possessed, eg. by lease, cultivation, taxing on entry, etc. Fructus (from ‘fruit’) allows a person to benefit from the sale of renewable commodities of the property.
- Abusus: The right to consume, destroy, or transfer the property. This interest is not conferred upon the usufructary.
- Roman law considered usufruct a type of personal servitude, where the usufructary had no posession of the property. Under a rental agreement today, a person has even more restricted rights over a property than did a usufructary in Rome, but is yet not considered a personal servant.
- The Law of Modes directed owners of productive property not to harvest the edges of their fields so that the poor may collect the gleanings. This confers a kind of usufructary right by default onto the poor.
- “Earth belongs – in usufruct – to the living.” (Thomas Jefferson).