Working Paper No. 03-24:
Fragmentation of Property Rights: A Functional Interpretation of the Law of Servitudes


Ben Depoorter, Francesco Parisi

Date Posted: 2003

Abstract (below) | Full text (most recent) on SSRN


This Article argues that recent developments in economic theory provide a new rationale for the dichotomous approach of land use arrangements in the law of servitudes that is almost universal in the modern Western legal tradition. The treatment of certain land-related promises as enforceable contracts between parties, rather than real rights that run with the land in perpetuity, can be explained as an attempt to minimize the transaction and strategic costs resulting from dysfunctional property arrangements. As demonstrated by the Authors, benchmark doctrines such as "touch and concern," and the civil law principles of "prediality" and numerus clausus, have served as instruments to limit excessive or dysfunctional fragmentation of property rights. Section I of this Article describes the dichotomous approach of land use arrangements in the law of servitudes in Common Law and Civil Law systems. Section II provides a functional explanation of the legal rules in this area. Section III documents and explains the changing approach to land use law in both Common Law and Civil Law jurisdictions. Section IV discusses the role of property law in a changing economy. Section V reflects on the appropriate scope of freedom of contract in the law of servitudes. Section VI concludes.