In common law systems, land tenure is the legal regime in which land is owned by an individual, who is said to "hold" the land. The French verb "tenir" means "to hold" and "tenant" is the present participle of "tenir". The sovereign monarch, known as The Crown, held land in its own right. All private owners are either its tenants or sub-tenants. Tenure signifies the relationship between tenant and lord, not the relationship between tenant and land.
Over history, many different forms of land ownership, i.e., ways of owning land, have been established.
A landholder/landowner is a holder of the estate in land with considerable rights of ownership or, simply put, an owner of land.
Historically in the system of feudalism, the lords who received land directly from the Crown were called tenants-in-chief. They doled out portions of their land to lesser tenants in exchange for services, who in turn divided it among even lesser tenants. This process—that of granting subordinate tenancies—is known as subinfeudation. In this way, all individuals except the monarch were said to hold the land "of" someone else.
Historically, it was usual for there to be reciprocal duties between lord and tenant. There were different kinds of tenure to fit various kinds of duties that a tenant might owe to a lord. For instance, a military tenure might be by knight-service, requiring the tenant to supply the lord with a number of armed horsemen. The concept of tenure has since evolved into other forms, such as leases and estates.
There is a great variety of modes of land ownership and tenure:
In addition, there are various forms of collective ownership, which typically take either the form of membership in a cooperative, or shares in a corporation, which owns the land (typically by fee simple, but possibly under other arrangements). There are also various hybrids; in many communist states, government ownership of most agricultural land has combined in various ways with tenure for farming collectives.
In archaeology, traditions of land tenure can be studied according to territoriality and through the ways in which people create and utilize landscape boundaries, both natural and constructed. Less tangible aspects of tenure are harder to qualify, and study of these relies heavily on either the anthropological record (in the case of pre-literate societies) or textual evidence (in the case of literate societies).
In archaeology, land tenure traditions can be studied across the longue durée, for example land tenure based on kinship and collective property management. This makes it possible to study the long-term consequences of change and development in land tenure systems and agricultural productivity.
Moreover, an archaeological approach to land tenure arrangements studies the temporal aspects of land governance, including their sometimes temporary, impermanent and negotiable aspects as well as uses of past forms of tenure. For example, people can lay claim to, or profess to own resources, through reference to ancestral memory within society. In these cases, the nature of and relationships with aspects of the past, both tangible (e.g. monuments) and intangible (e.g. concepts of history through story telling) are used to legitimize the present.
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All land in China is owned by the central government. Enterprises, farmers, and householders lease land from the state using long-term leases of 20 to 70 years.
Although the doctrine of tenure has little importance today, its influence still lingers in some areas.
The concepts of landlord and tenant have been recycled to refer to the modern relationship of the parties to land which is held under a lease. It has been pointed out by Professor F.H. Lawson in Introduction to the Laws of Property (1958), however, that the landlord-tenant relationship never really fitted in the feudal system and was rather an "alien commercial element".
The doctrine of tenure did not apply to personalty (personal property). However, the relationship of bailment in the case of chattels closely resembles the landlord-tenant relationship that can be created in land.
Secure land tenure also recognizes one's legal residential status in urban areas and it is a key characteristics of slums. Slum dwellers do not have legal title to the land and thus are usually marginalized and ignored by the local governments.
All land in China is owned by the government, which parcels it out to developers and homeowners through 20- to 70-year leases.