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Scorpions & italian real estate


(Legal concept - Adverse Possession / Usucapione)

Which word in Italian represents a legal concept understood by all Italians and yet is unknown to Italian Americans? The answer will be revealed in the body of this article. Those readers whose parents or grandparents left behind family and land in Italy for a better life elsewhere will be particularly interested in the answer.

Our trip to the hill towns in the beautiful and enchanting countryside of the Abruzzo region has been difficult during these warm days of late June yet rewarding since we have succeeded in finding our client’s “lost” home and the numerous agricultural parcels abandoned many years earlier. How did you find the property, you ask?

With only a copy of an old letter referencing specific parcel numbers, we were able in this digital age to obtain from our office in San Francisco more detail on the title (*foglio, particella, ecc.*) and specific maps of the *Abbruzese *area. However, it was still necessary on this assignment to go to Italy to track down a street address in a small town and take pictures of the land in the surrounding area some of which we discovered had been cultivated by a local farmer for many years. At this point in the story we did not know who was working the land.

With the gracious collaboration of local civil servants in the Municipality’s land registry office, we (my wife and I) set out with maps and camera in hand to transform our title documents and land maps into nostalgic photographs for our client. There was also a practical side to our quest: recovering the family property. In the two days that followed we scoured the country side in question talking to numerous farmers in their vineyards and grasslands in a valley set under the backdrop of the breathtaking mountains in the Abruzzo region. We were confident we were in the right location of the parcels but had to be sure before taking pictures.

On the morning of the third day, we heard the sound of another tractor working the vineyards in the target area. Stopping our car we ascended the vineyard slop to ask which parcel he was working. Cooperative but slightly suspicious he gave us the parcel number and added he had acquired it. (This does not mean he purchased it.) We realized then that we had hit pay dirt since the parcels we were looking for were those adjacent his. In that moment we also realized we had met “the Scorpion”, that is, one who “acquires land by adverse possession. We later discovered he had acquired by adverse possession (*usucapione *) over the years a total of 90 parcels in the fertile valley.

As a wealthy farmer still working the land for many years not with a plow but from within an air-conditioned tractor, he had little schooling but understood that others had left behind valuable land while looking for better times in the US and Canada. His attorney and others in the town had mentioned this legal term, *usucapione *, which was perceived by him as *U scorpione *.

It is only fair to admit that the title to this article is not entirely the creation of my imagination but the result of a comic linguistic twist or misinterpretation. Certainly the word  “scorpion” has taken on a new meaning for us. It is not found in any legal dictionary or other authoritative source but for the sake of this article, it may be defined as a savvy Italian who understands that working abandoned land and paying the very low taxes on agricultural property will allow one to automatically acquire title by *usucapione* which sounds a lot like scorpion, also known as “squatters rights.

As to the ending of the story, further investigations revealed that some of the property is still uncultivated and remains the property of our client even after decades meaning that it has not been yet lost to “the scorpion” farmer. For our client’s remaining property, we must Declaration of Succession with the Land Office thus passing the title from the dead from generations past to the living succession heirs.  

For further clarification, Italian Legal Language Services can be reached in San Francisco at (415) 382-6171 or through their web site www.italianlaw.net

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