What is Usufruct?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Usufruct is a legal right to use land as long as it is not damaged or destroyed. A usufructuary, someone who benefits from this right, is also not permitted to sell or transfer the land. Not all jurisdictions recognize usufruct and others may have special conditions designed to limit this right. If people are not sure about their legal rights, it is advisable to consult an attorney who specializes in the relevant area of the law.

Man holding computer
Man holding computer

In a usufruct agreement, someone is given permission to use land for a set period of time or until death, depending on the terms of the agreement. The agreement may also indicate that people are allowed to alter the land. This gives people the right to grow and harvest crops, rent the land to tenants, and so forth. In other cases, people must use the land exactly as is, as when people have the right to use a river for recreation, but cannot make changes to the river.

There are a number of settings where a usufruct agreement can be used. Farmers may agree to let neighbors utilize unused portions of their land, indigenous people may have a right to use government-owned land in traditional ways, and people can also structure usufruct into a will. In this case, a spouse or surviving child inherits the right to use land, but not the ownership, and avoids paying estate tax on the property. This legal loophole has been closed in some areas of the world.

With the right to use the property generally comes an obligation to maintain it. People are expected to refrain from damaging property and to repair damage when it occurs as a result of their activities. Uncontrolled or unavoidable damage, like storm damage, may be the responsibility of the usufructuary or the owner, depending on the agreement's terms. It is common to carry insurance for such eventualities to avoid potentially costly liability.

In regions where this type of land use is not recognized, there may be alternatives available for people who want to set up an arrangement giving someone the right to use a property without owning it. Legal contracts can be drafted to provide a legally enforceable agreement in compliance with the laws in the region surrounding land use and contracts for land use. This right is distinct from rental and lease agreements where people enjoy the right to use property in exchange for a fee and certain other legal considerations, depending on the contract.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Native American tribes, who live on reservations, are under special kinds of usufruct agreements, I presume. At the time the government set up the reservations for the tribes, there must have been an elaborate agreement as to who pays what and who decides what can be done on the land.

I'm sure that over the years, agreements have had to be changed and many conflicts have had to be resolved.

I wonder what rights regarding the use of reservation land the Native Americans are free to decide themselves.


It seems like there would be a lot of fuzzy areas when an owner and a usufruct property user make up a contract. They have to decide who pays the property taxes, and the various kinds of insurance needed.

If the owners give permission for the land user to rent the property or use it for planting, it all needs to be spelled out in the contract.

And think of the complications it would cause, if the land use was passed along to an heir after death. Maybe the heir or the owner would want to change the whole contract.


@amysamp - I agree with you, it seems like you would have disputes! We have property line or boundary disagreements even when property seems to be clear.

However, from what I have read, usufruct can have its own laws to figure out such disputes just as we have surveyors here for boundary disputes.


I had never heard of this usufruct law, but it made me think of a fact my husband had told me about.

This is a sort of usufruct law for Walmart parking lots. He said that it is legal to park your car and stay the night in a Walmart parking lot.

Has anyone else heard of this? I am not sure how safe I would even feel doing such, but in a pinch it might be a good place to stop and rest on a long road trip.

But back to the main point of usufruct laws, it seems that there might be many property disputes with such an agreement.

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