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In Law, what is Beneficial Use?

Meisha Ray
Meisha Ray

Beneficial use is a legal term relating to the rights an individual has over certain aspects of a property even though someone else owns the title of that property. Most often, disputes over beneficial use have to do with access to resources like light, air, and water, but they can also pertain to matters of trust properties. Another name for beneficial use is beneficial enjoyment and this title may be more definitive. If, for instance, a homeowner wanted to add an additional floor to his house, then issues of beneficial use may arise between him and adjoining land owners if this new construction obstructs the passage of sunlight to his or her neighbors’ property. It could even arise if the building obstructs a view of scenery since it can be argued that the addition reduces his or her neighbors' ability to enjoy their own property.

Another example with a broader reach would be if a property owner decided to dam a stream on his or her land in order to create a pond. Before doing so, he or she should obtain permission from anyone who may be affected by the stoppage of flow so that he can avoid arbitration in the future. In regards to trust properties, beneficial use can have a number of implications. One can claim beneficial ownership over a property that they do not yet have title over. As such, one can utilize the benefits of a given property so long as that usage is deemed appropriate given the parameters surrounding the property.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

For another example of beneficial use, the Berkley Landmark Preservation Commission designated Berkley Iceland — an ice rink in Berkley, California — as an official city landmark in 2007, a decision that was corroborated by the Berkley City Counsel. East Bay Iceland, the owner of the ice rink, is contending that the landmark status is denying them beneficial use of the property as they had planned to redevelop the recreation center for alternative and more profitable usage. Their claims have been ruled insubstantial in comparison to the plans Save Berkley Iceland, a local grassroots organization, has presented to revitalize the property. They believe the landmark is an essential community center that could provide neighborhood youth with a safe place to congregate away from school as well as low-income jobs. It is evident that beneficial use is a vague law with very subjective implications; but for the most part, ruling will tend to favor the community or group over a single property owner.

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