Definition of land


  • The word “land” in law is used to refer to more than just the two-dimensional, tangible surface soil on which people stand or walk. Nii Amaa Ollennu, in his book Principles of Customary Land Law in Ghana, introduces the concept of land in the law as follows:

  • The term “land” as understood in customary law has a wide application. It includes the land itself, i.e., the surface soil; it includes things on the soil which are enjoyed with it as being part of the land by nature, e.g., rivers, lakes, lagoons, growing trees like palm trees and awadawa trees, or as being artificially fixed to it like houses, buildings and any structures whatsoever; it also includes any estate, interest or right in, to, or over the land or over any of the other things which land denotes, e.g., the right to collect snails or herbs, or to hunt on land.''

  • Ollennu's definition raises a few important points. “Land” includes things growing on or attached to land, such as trees or buildings. “Land'' includes water. In Ollennu's formulation, “land'' includes rights as well (e.g., the right to hunt or collect snails). Because law is a set of rules, it is useful to think of “land'' as consisting of a party's rights under a set of rules.

  • Lawsuits do not deal so much with the physical things that a layperson might think of as land -- soil, trees, buildings and even snails -- as with the rights which a party may enforce in court. This is a big change from the normal way to think about land and rights. Using the word this way, when someone says “X” has a land interest in Property “Y” is the same as saying “X has a set of rights related to Property Y which may be enforced in court”. So a precise definition of “land” is difficult, but it encompasses rights over a variety of things attached to soil.