The Catalan Civil Code regulates Land Stewardship Contracts for the first time in Europe
Last month, The Plenary Assembly of the Parliament of Catalonia approved the sixth book of the Civil Code of Catalonia. This book covers obligations and contracts, which regulate Land Stewardship Contracts in Article 623 - 34.
The new law will come into effect on January 1st 2018, thereby strengthening private land stewardship practices.
Catalonia has its own civil law, based on the Roman legal tradition, that is separate from that of the rest of Spain. The process of codification of civil Catalan law started in the early 2000s and has provided a unique opportunity for the civil regulation of land stewardship.
Although the law provides a very open definition for the Land Stewardship Contract, it states some basic requirements. For example, the landowner, or other entity that has some rights over the land (such as a tenant), must sign the agreement with a not-for-profit organization that has land stewardship among its primary goals. Furthermore, the law gives freedom to the parties to set the contract terms, including obligations and the breach, the duration or guarantees, and the general contents.
Under the new rule, a Land Stewardship Contract can be binding between parties or binding to the land. Thelatter means that an agreement can be attached to the land’s deed, therefore following the land title in the event of new ownership, similar to an easement or covenant. The Catalan civil code does not allow for contracts in perpetuity, but stewardship agreements can be as long as 99 years, with the potential to be renewed.
This new regulation will help to standardize the contractual forms used across Catalonia to formalize Land Stewardship Agreements (which also include ownership, verbal agreements, buying of silviculture or grazing rights, etc.); particularly, those contracts between parties and those registered in the property deed.
This regulation has great significance for the public recognition of land stewardship as a civic strategy for the conservation of natural, cultural, and landscape heritage. When looking internationally, this is also a novelty, particularly for countries with civil code structure, since only Chile has adopted a law (Law no. 20930 in June 2016) that establishes “environmental conservation in rem right.” The Catalan experience will add to the body of knowledge around land conservation tools in civil code countries and will, hopefully, inspire other countries to provide appropriate regulating mechanisms for civic and private nature conservation.
Last but not least, the Government of Catalonia is currently working to implement a public Register of Stewardship Agreements and a tax incentive framework for land stewardship that will be linked to the register.
All those contracts under the law that meet minimum requirements to ensure legal and technical quality, as well as effectiveness in preserving the natural values, might enroll in the Registry. All registered agreements will be eligible for future tax incentives, especially those that allow for maximum long-term security. Therefore, the development of the Registry will be another key milestone for the development of effective land stewardship practices in Catalonia.
See the text (in Spanish) of the new Land Stewardship Contract regulations (Article 623-34) and Catalonia’s existing “in rem rights of partial use,” introduced in 2006 to the Catalan Civil Code (Articles 563-1 to 4), here (only in Spanish).