Can properties without an obvious owner be destroyed?

In the course of a conversation on Twitter, one person seemed to imply that a good that " did not have an obvious owner "Belonged to no one and therefore could be taken or degraded without any problem.

I was a little surprised and so I decided to dig the subject.

Position of the problem

Here is the conversation on Twitter that is behind this article:

Twitter conversation about the belonging of an abandoned property on public roads

Twitter conversation about the belonging of an abandoned property on public roads

Twitter conversation about the belonging of an abandoned property on public roads (continued)

Twitter conversation about the belonging of an abandoned property on public roads (continued)

So, we summarize ...

This person argues that if there is no obvious owner A good is without a master or res nullius...

Abandoned Seats (CC Ninedragons)

Abandoned seats (CC ninedragons)

Articles of the Criminal Code cited

In the various tweets previously reproduced, it is quoted the articles 322-1 of the Penal Code to article 322-4-1 of the Penal Code.

Simply put, these articles provide that the degradation of a property belonging to another is prohibited...

But nothing more!

If we want to address issues of abandonment, ownership or appearance of property, these items are not helpful: we turn instead to the Civil Code.

What the Civil Code says


The law of property is a real headache and we could write several dissertations / theses on the subject.

Here we will only deal with two types of property and their consequences on the ownership of these properties:

  • lost property;
  • abandoned property.

Lost property


A property is lost when the owner is involuntarily dispossessed of his property (unlike a robbery).

Ownership of a lost object

When reading the article 2276 Civil Code, paragraph 1 (" in fact furniture, possession is worth title"), It is appropriate to think that a person who finds a lost object can become the owner immediately, simply because of his actual possession (subject to good faith).

This is true, but it is a precarious property at first.

Indeed, this principle is limited by paragraph 2 of this same article. The original owner will be able to claim the item in the hands of the person who found it, subject to:

  • that he brings proof of his right of ownership over the object and
  • within 3 years.

In case of claim of the original owner, the property of the lost object returns to him immediately.

The "lost and found" service

To my knowledge, there is no law governing found objects: only local regulations organize the operation of found objects (ex. Order No. 2007-21381 concerning the organization of the Lost Property Service of the Prefecture of Police in Paris).

Most of the time, this by-law requires people finding an object in the street to deposit it with the lost property service or at least to declare it there.

If such a formality is not carried out, theft prosecution is quite possible (yes, even for a 10 € ticket found in the street, but this is the theory).

It is also common for lost property services to give these objects to the person who found them after 1 year and 1 day (the 3-year period mentioned in the previous paragraph starts from filing / reporting to the service found objects).

Abandoned property


An abandoned property (res derelictae) is an object left by the original owner, with the intention of terminating his right of ownership and leaving the property to the first occupant.

There are special provisions for a property to be considered abandoned when it has been deposited with a professional for the purpose of being worked, shaped, repaired or cleaned (Law of 31 December 1903 on the sale of certain abandoned objects): I'll let you see if you're interested

Ownership of an abandoned object

An abandoned object may become the property of a person who finds it because the original owner has waived his right.

However, abandonment is not presumed (otherwise it would be a bit too easy).

Also, it will be the person who finds the object abandoned, in case of conflict with the owner of the object, to prove that the latter intended to abandon it (which is almost impossible most of the time, but can be deduced from the circumstances, eg trash).


Thus, as we can see, the fact that a good is "available" in the street without indicating the name of its owner does not imply that it is " without master " (or res nullius).

These disabled seats probably have an owner and the fact of "crush" (as proposed by this surfer) exposes the person who does so to criminal prosecution non-questionable (articles 322-1 of the Penal Code).


  1. What about objects left on the commemoration sites of attacks or accidents, etc. & #8230; (on public roads where people drop stuffed animals, drawings, objects, flower beds, etc.)? Can we pick a few without being accused of anything?

  2. About res nullius, I think this concept applies to IP rights that no longer exists. This case concerns especially brands (or D & M), which do not need to be maintained each year, unlike patents, which may expire quickly after the disappearance of their owners.

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *