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What is Movable Property?

By John Markley
Updated May 16, 2024
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Movable property is property that can be moved from one place to another. The term “movables” is also sometimes used. It includes personal items such as clothing and jewelry, household goods such as furniture and appliances, and other items including animals and vehicles. It also encompasses ownership of intangible goods that are not fixed to a location, including services, intellectual property, and negotiable instruments such as banknotes and bills of exchange. Movable property is distinguished from immovable property, which encompasses ownership of land, buildings, and other private property bound to its location.

The term movable property is primarily used in places with legal systems based on civil law, as is the case in continental Europe, most of Latin America, and many countries in Africa and Asia. The analogous term in countries with legal systems based on British common law, such as Great Britain and the United States, is personal property, also sometimes referred to as personalty or chattels. These jurisdictions also sometimes use the term movable property, however. The common law terms equivalent to immovable property are “real property” or “real estate.”

The distinction between types of property has relevance to some issues in property law. The legal ownership of movable property is more easily separated from its original owner if the owner unintentionally loses possession of it. Unlike immovable property such as land, the ownership of most movable property is not officially recorded in legal records, and selling or otherwise transferring ownership of it usually does not involve formal documentation indicating who has the title to the property. Exceptions sometimes exist in the case of especially valuable movable goods, such as automobiles.

Ownership of movable property that has been lost, mislaid, or abandoned by its owner may transfer to the person who finds and takes possession of it if the original owner cannot be identified. Land and buildings cannot change owners by being lost in this way. It is possible, under common law and some civil law codes, for immovable property to change ownership if someone occupies it as if they were the owner, and the original owner fails to assert his or her rights to the property within a specified time period. The requirements for such a transfer, however, are stricter than they are for movables, and the length of time that must pass before the possessor becomes legally recognized as the legitimate owner is usually much longer.

The distinction can also have consequences for taxation. Property taxes are frequently levied only on immovable property. In jurisdictions that allow taxpayers to make income tax deductions for the depreciation of property, the depreciation deduction for movable and immovable property are often calculated in different ways. Different types of movable property, such as tangible and intangible property, are also sometimes taxed differently.

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Discussion Comments
By Markerrag — On Jan 29, 2014

Things get confusing when it comes to the issue of attached property. For example, let's say a tenant buys a rug he likes. When that rug is in his car on the way back to the appointment, it's personal property. He gets the rug installed in such a way that it is, arguably, affixed to the property. Who owns it?

If the rug is considered attached to the real property, the owner of that real property owns it. In that way, personal property can become attached to real property and the ownership can shift from one party to another.

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