An unappreciated noble gesture | Inquirer Business
Property rules

An unappreciated noble gesture

Ched is a hardworking migrant worker with a compassionate and generous heart. She spent her vacation in her hometown. Being single, she usually stayed in the house of her niece, Lenlen, a daughter of her younger sister, Rosie.

Upon her return to the foreign land she called home, she received news from Lenlen that the barrio where their family was staying became an insurgent’s camp. Saddened about this development, Ched immediately sent money to Ara, Lenlen’s older sister, with instructions to look for a lot where Lenlen and her family could transfer and settle down.

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Ched acquired the lot property initially for the purpose of allowing Lenlen and her family to use it as a safe haven, but later she wanted the property to be also available to any of her kins wishing to live and settle in the said property.

Ched executed a document, the salient portions state: (a) it is Ched’s desire that Lenlen and her family may build their house therein and stay as long as they like, (b) that anybody of Ched’s kins who wish to stay on the aforementioned real property should maintain an atmosphere of cooperation, live in harmony and must avoid bickering with one another; (c) that anyone of Ched’s kins may enjoy the privilege to stay therein and may avail the use thereof, provided, however, that the same is not inimical to the purpose thereof; and (d) that anyone of Ched’s kins who cannot conform with the former’s wishes may exercise the freedom to look for his own; and (e) that any proceeds or income derived from the aforementioned properties shall be allotted to Ched’s nearest kins who have less in life in greater percentage and lesser percentage to those who are better of in standing.

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Following her retirement, Ched came back to the Philippines to stay with Lenlen on the house her family built on the subject property. In the course of time, however, their relations turned sour. The animosity between Ched and Lenlen’s family reached its peak when Ched sustained cuts and wounds when Lenlen pulled her hair, hit her on the face, neck and back, while her husband held her, twisting her arms in the process.

Ched filed unlawful detainer complaint against Lenlen and her husband. She alleged that she is the owner of the land on which Lenlen and family built their house; that she sent the spouses a letter demanding them to vacate the premises and to pay rentals therefor, which the couple refused to heed.

In their defense, Lenlen and her husband alleged having entered the property in question, building their house thereon and maintaining the same as their residence with Ched’s full knowledge and express consent. To prove their point, they invited attention to her written declaration wherein she expressly signified her desire for the spouses to build their house on her property and stay thereat for as long as they like.

Q: What is the legal relationship that was constituted between Ched and Lenlen?

A: What was constituted between the parties is one of usufruct over a piece of land, with Ched being the owner of the property upon whom the naked title thereto remained and Lenlen and her husband being two among other unnamed usufructuaries who were simply referred to as Ched’s kins.

Q: What is usufruct?

A: Usufruct gives a right to enjoy the property of another with the obligation of preserving its form and substance, unless the title constituting it or the law otherwise provides. Usufruct, in essence, is nothing else but simply allowing one to enjoy another’s property.

It is also defined as the right to enjoy the property of another temporarily, including both the jus utendi and the jus fruendi, with the owner retaining the jus disponendi or the power to alienate the same.

Q: When can a usufruct be terminated?

A: The term or period of the usufruct originally specified provides only one of the bases for the right of a usufructuary to hold and retain possession of the thing given in usufruct.

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There are other modes or instances whereby the usufruct shall be considered terminated or extinguished. Such other modes of extinguishment are: (1) by the death of the usufructuary, unless a contrary intention clearly appears; (2) by expiration of the period for which it was constituted, or by the fulfillment of any resolutory condition provided in the title creating the usufruct; (3) by merger of the usufruct and ownership in the same person; (4) by renunciation of the usufructuary; (5) by the total loss of the thing in usufruct; (6) by the termination of the right of the person constituting the usufruct; and (7) by prescription. (ART. 603.)

Q: Was the usufructuary relationship between the parties deemed terminated?

A: Yes. Ched made it abundantly clear “that anybody of my kins who wishes to stay on the aforementioned property should maintain an atmosphere of cooperation, live in harmony and must avoid bickering with one another.”

That the maintenance of a peaceful and harmonious relations between and among kin constitutes an indispensable condition for the continuance of the usufruct is clearly deduced from what Ched stated in the document “[T]hat anyone of my kins who cannot conform with the wishes of the undersigned may exercise the freedom to look for his own.” In fine, the occurrence of any of the following: the loss of the atmosphere of cooperation, the bickering or the cessation of harmonious relationship between/among kin constitutes a resolutory condition which, by express wish of the petitioner, extinguishes the usufruct.

Q: Can Lenlen and her husband claim for reimbursement of the improvements they introduced on the property during the effectivity of the usufruct?

A: No. Guided by Articles 579 and 580 of the Civil Code, Lenlen and her husband, as usufructuary, do not have the right to reimbursement for the improvements they may have introduced on the property. They may, however, remove such improvements, should it be possible to do so without damage to the property. (Source: Moralidad vs Sps. Pernes, G.R. No. 152809 August 3, 2006)

The author is the Dean of Lyceum of the Philippines University; chairperson of Philippine Association of Law Schools; and founder of Mawis Law Office

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