Usufruct is a legal right to use land as long as it is not damaged or destroyed. A usufructuary, someone who benefits from this right, is also not permitted to sell or transfer the land. Not all jurisdictions recognize usufruct and others may have special conditions designed to limit this right. If people are not sure about their legal rights, it is advisable to consult an attorney who specializes in the relevant area of the law.
In a usufruct agreement, someone is given permission to use land for a set period of time or until death, depending on the terms of the agreement. The agreement may also indicate that people are allowed to alter the land. This gives people the right to grow and harvest crops, rent the land to tenants, and so forth. In other cases, people must use the land exactly as is, as when people have the right to use a river for recreation, but cannot make changes to the river.
There are a number of settings where a usufruct agreement can be used. Farmers may agree to let neighbors utilize unused portions of their land, indigenous people may have a right to use government-owned land in traditional ways, and people can also structure usufruct into a will. In this case, a spouse or surviving child inherits the right to use land, but not the ownership, and avoids paying estate tax on the property. This legal loophole has been closed in some areas of the world.
With the right to use the property generally comes an obligation to maintain it. People are expected to refrain from damaging property and to repair damage when it occurs as a result of their activities. Uncontrolled or unavoidable damage, like storm damage, may be the responsibility of the usufructuary or the owner, depending on the agreement's terms. It is common to carry insurance for such eventualities to avoid potentially costly liability.
In regions where this type of land use is not recognized, there may be alternatives available for people who want to set up an arrangement giving someone the right to use a property without owning it. Legal contracts can be drafted to provide a legally enforceable agreement in compliance with the laws in the region surrounding land use and contracts for land use. This right is distinct from rental and lease agreements where people enjoy the right to use property in exchange for a fee and certain other legal considerations, depending on the contract.