In property law what is the difference between Title and Possession? They basically sound like the same thing to me.

3 Answers 3


Title is legal ownership. Possession is immediate control, often but not always physical control. For example, if I buy a book and lend it to my friend A, I have title to it, but A has possession. Or if I rent a house, the landlord has title (or possibly the landlord's bank does) but I have possession. If a thief steals something, the thief has possession, but not title.

Some kinds of property have a registered or written title. For example, land and houses usually do, and in many jurisdictions automobiles also do. Those will show the legal owner, and may well also show outstanding loans for which the property is collateral. The law may require that the written title be signed over, and/or that the transaction be recorded with a governmental authority and a new written title issued, when ownership of such property is transferred.

"Lawful possession" includes a lent or rented item of property, but not a stolen one — a thief does not have lawful possession.

  • Possession is 9/10th of Ownership. Titles of Ownership weigh 10. :)
    – Trish
    Dec 5, 2021 at 8:48
  • 1
    @trish The common saying that "possession is 9/10 of ownership" does not correctly reflect the law, and never did. At most it meant that being in possession of property is often taken to be evidence of ownership, in the absence of a well-founded claim to the contrary, and says nothing about leases and loans where the possessor does not claim ownership. Dec 7, 2021 at 18:50

Property rights are pretty complex, but not out-of-reach if you are interested. In the simplest of cases, title and possession held by the same person, which is why its easy to not understand the difference. But the details may depend on the wording of a trust and what US state the property is in. A common example is if there is a Deed of Trust (or Mortgage) but that's only on form of complexity. Explicit trusts are also fairly common.

The word title potentially ambiguous. Under Trust Law (in jurisdictions like the US), legal title and equitable title can be held by different people and consist of different rights. As an example on Explicit Trusts, base on my understanding, without trying to be exhaustive:

A Trustee may hold legal title to a house, but that doesn't mean he has rights to use it as he wishes. A trust Beneficiary may be granted the right to use that house as long as they live, or to receive the income generated by renting it. The Beneficiary has equitable title.

If the beneficiary is living in the house, they have possession of it, but that doesn't mean they may sell it. If a renter is living there, they could be said to have possession of it, but obviously can't sell it either. If no one is living there, you would probably say the Trustee had possession, and he might be able to sell it, but not to himself, and the proceeds from the sale aren't his either.

If a trust is revocable, the situation gets even more complex, because the person who created the trust may have rights.


Ownership or title must be distinguished from possession: i) Buyer has title – Seller has possession: Property in goods is not the same as possession. Although property in goods sold may have passed to the buyer, but the seller may continue to be in possession of the goods ii) Buyer has possession – owner has title: On the other hand, person may be in possession of goods but title or ownership still remains with the owner e.g. in hire-purchase of cars where the hirer has physical possession of the goods but the title or ownership still remains with the finance company until the final installment is discharged.

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