Land law is the form of law that deals with the rights to use, alienate, or exclude others from land. In many jurisdictions, these kinds of property are referred to as real estate or real property, as distinct from personal property. Land use agreements, including renting, are an important intersection of property and contract law. Encumbrance on the land rights of one, such as an easement, may constitute the land rights of another. Mineral rights and water rights are closely linked, and often interrelated concepts.
Land rights are such a basic form of law that they develop even where there is no state to enforce them; for example, the claim clubs of the American West were institutions that arose organically to enforce the system of rules appurtenant to mining. Squatting, the occupation of land without ownership, is a globally ubiquitous phenomenon.
Sovereignty, in common law jurisdictions, is often referred to as absolute title, radical title, or allodial title. Nearly all of these jurisdictions have a system of land registration, to record fee simple interests, and a land claim process to resolve disputes.
Land rights refer to the inalienable ability of individuals to freely obtain, use, and possess land at their discretion, as long as their activities on the land do not impede on other individuals’ rights. This is not to be confused with access to land, which allows individuals the use of land in an economic sense (i.e. farming). Instead, land rights address the ownership of land which provides security and increases human capabilities. When a person only has access to land, they are in constant threat of expulsion depending on the choices of the land owner, which limits financial stability.
Land rights are an integral part of Land Laws, as they socially enforce groups of individuals’ rights to own land in concurrence with the land laws of a nation. Land Law addresses the legal mandates set forth by a country in regards to land ownership, while land rights refer to the social acceptance of land ownership. Landesa takes the stance that although the law may advocate for equal access to land, land rights in certain countries and cultures may hinder a group’s right to actually own land. Laws are important, but they must be backed up by cultural tradition and social acceptance. Therefore, laws concerning land ownership and land rights of a country must be in agreement.
Globally, there has been an increased focus on land rights, as they are so pertinent to various aspects of development. According to Wickeri and Kalhan, land ownership can be a critical source of capital, financial security, food, water, shelter, and resources. The UN Global Land Tool organisation has found that rural landlessness is a strong predictor of poverty and hunger, and negatively impacts Empowerment and the realisation of Human rights. In order to home in on this critical problem of inadequate land rights, The Millennium Development Goal 7D strives to improve the lives of 100 million slum dwellers. This includes increased land rights for impoverished people, which will ultimately lead to a higher quality of life.
Although land rights are fundamental in achieving higher standards of living, certain groups of individuals are consistently left out of land ownership provisions. The law may provide access to land, however, cultural barriers and poverty traps limit minority groups’ ability to own land. In order to reach equality, these groups must obtain adequate land rights that are both socially and legally recognised.
Kanakalatha Mukund makes the important point that although women in India have the legal right to own land, very few actually do as a result of the patriarchal practices which dominate the nation. Up until recently, Indian women have been left out of laws regarding the distribution of public land and were forced to rely on the small possibility of obtaining private land from their families. Inheritance laws which cater towards men are one of the key issues behind inequality in land rights. According to Bina Agarwal, land ownership defines social status and political power in the household and in the village, shaping relationships and creating family dynamics. Therefore, inheritance of land automatically puts men above women both in the household, and in the community. Without political pull in the village, and with limited bargaining powers within the household, women lack the voice to advocate for their own rights.
The most recent advance towards equality in land rights in India was the Hindu Succession Act of 2005. This act aimed to remove the gender discrimination which was present in the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. In the new amendment, daughters and sons have equal rights to obtain land from their parents. This act was both a legally and socially important move for women’s rights to land. Not only did it legally mandate equality in land succession, it also validated women’s roles as equals in society.