Movable assets: what they are and legal definition

Movable assets

Movable assets are a special legal category of goods. Let’s see together what they are, how they are regulated and with which contracts it is possible to sell or grant them for use.

Movable assets: what they are and legal definition

What are movable assets?

The legal definition of property

To understand what movable property is, we must first analyze the legal definition of “good”. For the Civil Code, they are goods of the things that may be the subject of rights. Therefore, not all things present in nature are goods from a legal point of view: Only those that have an economic value. In particular, goods are things characterized by:

  • scarcity – available in limited quantities compared to need (e.g. air is not good because it is unlimited)
  • utility – the thing must be able to satisfy a certain need (e.g. a shoe, a smartphone)
  • availability – it must be possible to take possession of the thing, both from a physical and legal point of view (eg Mars is not good because, at the moment, it is not possible to take possession of it)

Movable property and immovable property

There are two broad legal categories of assets: immovable property and movable property. Real estate is defined in art. 812 cc These are the soil, buildings and constructions, springs and waterways as well as everything that is incorporated into the ground. All other assets are considered movable.

The distinction between movable and immovable property is important because depending on the category to which it belongs, the rules regarding the transfer of ownership, guarantee, etc. change. For example, to sell real estate, you need to sign a written contract. For movable property, a verbal agreement is generally sufficient.

Registered and unregistered movable assets

The movable property is divided, in turn, into two other categories: movable property and registered movable property. This last category includes things of particular value such as cars, motorcycles, ships, and aircraft.

The registered movable property is subject to registration in the public registers (eg Public motor vehicle register) and requires some formalities in case of transfer. For example, to sell a car or a boat, a registration in the public register of reference is required. In this way, everyone will have the opportunity to know with certainty the owner of the property.

Capital goods and consumer goods

A further subdivision, which however has no relevance from a legal point of view, is that between capital goods and consumer goods. In particular, capital goods are goods used to produce other goods (e.g. a machine) while consumer goods (or direct goods) are goods that satisfy a need through their own use (e.g. a dress, an appliance, etc.).

It is important not to confuse this economic definition with the legal definition of consumable goods and consumable goods. The former are goods that are consumed through their use while the latter are goods that can be used several times (durable goods or goods for repeated use). For example, milk is a consumable good while a car is an inconsumable good.

Relevant contracts for movable property

Movable assets can be the subject of various contracts. In particular, the ownership of the goods can pass from one subject to another (eg sale or donation) or the owner can grant the use of an asset to another (eg rental or loan).

Sale and transfer of ownership

The sale and transfer of ownership of movable property take place with the purchase and sale contract of movable property. With this contract, a person, the seller, transfers the ownership of the movable property to another person, the buyer, against payment of a price.

The sale of a movable thing can also take place with a verbal agreement. However, it is always best to regulate the most important conditions in writing, in order to avoid misunderstandings. Furthermore, with a written contract it will be possible to insert further clauses, such as the sale subject to approval.


In the donation, the transfer of ownership of a movable asset takes place free of charge. The owner (donor) transfers the asset to another subject not to receive a price but for a “spirit of liberality”. Whoever receives the goods must still accept the donation.

The donation of movable property does not generally require a written form. However, in the event that the asset is of great value (eg a branded watch, an expensive painting), it will be necessary to go to the notary to stipulate the contract in the form of a public deed.

Rental (rental of movable property)

With the rental contract, the owner of the movable property (renter) allows it to be used by another person for a fixed time and towards the payment of a sum of money (rent). The rental does not, therefore, provide for the transfer of ownership of the asset but only the possibility of using it (enjoyment).

The rental does not require particular forms. However, a written contract is recommended to avoid misunderstandings about the conditions. Furthermore, in the contract, it will be possible to include ancillary services to the asset (hot hire contract). For example, it is possible to provide an installation or maintenance service. Finally, it is also possible to provide a redemption agreement, so that the user has the opportunity to purchase the asset at the end of the rental.


In the loan agreement for movable property, the owner grants the use of the property free of charge. The payment of a fee is therefore not foreseen as is the case in the rental contract.

The loan can be provided for a fixed period of time or without a deadline. In the latter case, the owner can request the return of the property at any time.