Seisin is a legal term dating to the Middle Ages used in reference to someone who both owns and possesses land. This concept was particularly important in the feudal era, where land ownership conferred certain social and legal rights not available to people who didn't own property. Today, it is less commonly encountered as a legal concept, although it remains on the books in some nations.
It is possible to own property without possessing it, as seen when people own property and lease or rent it to others. A landlord retains ownership of a home while it is used by tenants, but does not have possession. Conversely, the tenant possesses the home, but does not own it. Ownership and possession are distinct concepts, each conferring certain rights. For instance, landlords can collect rents, while tenants have the right to privacy and do not have to open their homes to their landlords without prior arrangements, with the exception of emergencies where there is a clear danger to life, health, or property.
Someone who holds seisin both owns the property and has taken possession. Some regions distinguish between whether this is “in fact” or “in deed.” A person who holds seisin in fact has clear title and possession rights, but has not yet enforced those rights, as seen when a person inherits a house from a relative. By moving into the house, that person would take possession “in deed,” with an action clearly intended to exert physical rights over the property.
A person who both holds seisin, owning and possessing, has more legal rights over the property than someone who just owns or just possesses. There are limits to these rights; people usually must use and develop property within certain boundaries, and property can be seized in certain legal situations. Property used as collateral on a loan can be taken by the lender and governments also have seizure rights for nonpayment of taxes and certain types of criminal activity.
Regional laws about the rights of property owners, as well as people who possess property without holding title vary considerably, depending on how their legal systems are structured. People uncertain about whether a given activity is legal when they hold seisin can consult an attorney who specializes in property law to get more information. For people who think their property rights are being abridged, it is important to get legal assistance as soon as possible. In some communities, free legal services are available to low income people.