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In law, a dwelling (also known as a residence, abode or domicile) is a self-contained unit of accommodation used by one or more households as a home – such as a house, apartment, mobile home, houseboat, recreational vehicle, or other "substantial" structure.[citation needed] The concept of a dwelling has significance in relation to search and seizure, conveyancing of real property, burglary, trespass, and land-use planning.

Legal definitions[edit]

Legal definitions vary by jurisdiction.

'Dwelling' (England and Wales)[edit]

Under English law, a dwelling is defined as a self-contained 'substantial' unit of accommodation, such as a building, part of a building, caravan, houseboat or other mobile home. A tent is not normally considered substantial.[1][2]

'Dwelling' (North Carolina)[edit]

According to North Carolina General Statute § 160A-442, "Dwelling" means any building, structure, manufactured home or mobile home, or part thereof, used and occupied for human habitation, or intended to be so used, and includes any outhouses and appurtenances belonging thereto or usually enjoyed therewith, except that it does not include any manufactured home or mobile home, which is used solely for a seasonal vacation purpose."

According to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 53-244.030, "Dwelling" means a residential structure that contains one to four units, whether or not that structure is attached to real property. The term includes an individual condominium unit, cooperative unit, manufactured home, mobile home, or trailer if it is used as a residence. Under the Oregon law, a "dwelling" is defined as a "building which regularly or intermittently is occupied by a person lodging therein at night, whether or not a person is actually present." The United States v. Adams, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 25866 (9th Cir. Or. 25 November 2009)

'Habitual residence' (international law)[edit]

In international conventions, a person can have only one habitual residence, being the place where the individual ordinarily resides and routinely returns to after visiting other places for a reasonably significant period of time. It is used to determine the law which should be applied to determine a given legal dispute. The Hague Conference on Private International Law has deliberately refrained from offering a definition so that the concept may be flexible and adaptable to practical requirements.

'Inhabited dwelling' (Various US states)[edit]

In California, California Penal Code § 246[3] refers to the discharging of a firearm at an inhabited dwelling house. This statute specifies that a "dwelling" (more commonly referred to as a house) is "inhabited" if a person lives in it; it is irrelevant whether anyone is present. A house, building, or structure is not considered "inhabited" or "occupied" if the occupants have moved out or vacated and do not intend to return, even if the personal property was left behind. Therefore, it would no longer be considered a dwelling for legal purposes, which from a defense standpoint, would negate a conviction under this code. For prosecutors, it is advantageous to construe these terms loosely in order to secure as many convictions as possible for violation of this code. Examples of loose interpretation exist not only in California but also in other states such as Colorado where a similar statute (Colorado Code § 18-1-901(3)(g)) applies in cases even when a shooting at a detached garage that does not traditionally constitute a dwelling or house. However, per common law, courts in both of these states and others have held that it does qualify as an occupied building for purposes of a criminal conviction.[citation needed]

The 'curtilage' (boundary) of a dwelling[edit]

In law, the curtilage of a dwelling is the land immediately surrounding it, including any closely associated buildings and structures. It delineates the boundary within which a homeowner can have a reasonable expectation of privacy with particular relevance to search and seizure, conveyancing of real property, burglary, trespass, and land use planning. In urban properties, the location of the curtilage may be evident from the position of fences, walls, and similar; within larger properties, it may be a matter of some legal debate as to where the private area ends and any "open fields beyond".[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Statistics at DCLG - Department for Communities and Local Government - GOV.UK". www.communities.gov.uk. Retrieved 4 August 2017.
  2. ^ "Can the following comprise a 'dwelling' and therefore be eligible for exemption as a main residence?". KRS Accountants. Archived from the original on 26 January 2014. Retrieved 24 November 2013.
  3. ^ "California Penal Code § 246". Government of California. Retrieved 26 September 2021.
  4. ^ "Legal briefing - The extent of listing 3". Context 97. Sweet & Maxwell. November 2006. Archived from the original on 1 December 2016. Retrieved 16 December 2013.

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