Personal Property


Personal property is a type of property. In the common law systems personal property may also be called chattels. It is distinguished from real property, or real estate. In the civil law systems personal property is often called movable property or movables - any property that can be moved from one location to another. This term is in distinction with immovable property or immovable’s, such as land and buildings.

Personal property may be classified in a variety of ways, such as money, negotiable instruments, securities, goods, and intangible assets including chose in action.

The distinction between these types of property is significant for a variety of reasons. Usually one’s rights on movables are more attenuated than one’s rights on immovable’s (or real property). The statutes of limitations or prescriptive periods are usually shorter when dealing with personal or movable property. Real property rights are usually enforceable for a much longer period of time and in most jurisdictions real estate and immovable’s are registered in government-sanctioned land registers. In some jurisdictions, rights (such as a lien or other security interest) can be registered against personal or movable property.

In the common law it is possible to place a mortgage upon real property. Such mortgage requires payment or the owner of the mortgage can seek foreclosure. Personal property can often be secured with similar kind of device, variously called a chattel mortgage, trust receipt, or security interest. In the United States, Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code governs the creation and enforcement of security interests in most (but not all) types of personal property.

There is no similar institution to the mortgage in the civil law, however a hypothec is a device to secure real rights against property. These real rights follow the property along with the ownership. In the common law a lien also remains on the property and it is not extinguished by alienation of the property; liens may be real or equitable.

Many jurisdictions levy a personal property tax, an annual tax on the privilege of owning or possessing personal property within the boundaries of the jurisdiction. Automobile and boat registration fees are a subset of this tax. Most household goods are exempt as long as they are kept or used within the household; the tax usually becomes a problem when the taxing authority discovers that expensive personal property like art is being regularly stored outside of the household.