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Acquiring Property Through Accession

Cite this article as: Jason Mance Gordon, "Acquiring Property Through Accession," in The Business Professor, updated January 8, 2015, last accessed April 8, 2020, https://thebusinessprofessor.com/knowledge-base/acquiring-property-through-accession/.
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Acquiring Property Through Accession
This video explains how one can acquire property rights through accession.

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How do individuals acquire an “ownership” interest in property?

Accession – Accession refers to additions to existing property to modify it in a way that results in new property. Accession is very similar to creation of something new. That is, if you add something to raw materials, you own the product that you make from the raw material.

  • Example: I build a tree house with lumber that is not mine. I used property that was not mine, so I am liable for the value of the lumber. But, I own the product of my labor (the tree house). Of course, in my situation, the person may be able to file a legal claim against you if you do not pay for the lumber.

Discussion: Do you believe that something created from raw materials should be considered new property? In the business context, should ownership rights in newly created property vest in the owner of the raw materials?

Practice Question: Tom needs a place to live. He owns land, but he does not have the money to build a house. One day, he is riding by a construction site. Out front is a large stack of lumber that belongs to Angie, the general contractor. Tom comes back that evening and steals all of the lumber to build himself a house. Tom is a skilled carpenter and using the lumber it only takes him a week to frame in his house. If Angie learns that Tom stole his lumber, does she effectively own Tom’s house? Why or why not?

Proposed Answer

  • Accession refers to the act of acquiring a property or goods of one party by another, and improving the worth of those goods, or turning that property into something better. When a person uses additional materials or contributes their own labor in order to improve or increase the value of someone else’s property, it may be possible for that person to acquire title to the finished product be accession. Accession is done in good faith, if the property was acquired through a bad faith dealing, the property remains the owner’s and the trespasser cannot recover labor or material. Accession may also occur when someone changes another person’s property entirely. In the example, Tom owns the house he built using the lumber he stole from Angie by virtue of accession and occasioned by his own labor in making the house. However, Angie can still exercise the right to sue Tom to recover the value of the lumber Tom took. https://www.legalmatch.com/law-library/article/accession-and-confusion.html

Academic Research

Merrill, Thomas W., Accession and Original Ownership (August 28, 2009). The Journal of Legal Analysis, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 459-510, Summer 2009. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1463427

Blocher, Joseph and Gulati, Gaurang Mitu, Puerto Rico and the Right of Accession (November 20, 2017). Yale Journal of International Law, Forthcoming; Duke Law School Public Law & Legal Theory Series No. 2017-47. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2988102 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2988102

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