Entitlements of the Right to Adequate Housing

Legal security of tenure, freedom from dispossession

The legal right to secure tenure, whether freehold, leasehold, or other form of individual and collective possession of housing, involves protection from forced eviction, harassment and other threats. It also effectively guarantees access to, use of and control over land, property and housing resources. Governments should “confer security of tenure to all persons currently threatened with forced eviction andadopt all necessary measures, giving full protection against forced eviction, based upon effective participation, consultation and negotiation with affected persons or groups” (CHR 1993/77).

Each individual and community has a right to a place to live without threat of dispossession from land, all forms of their property, their homes and resources, as well as all individual and collective holdings required to sustain livelihood. The state must safeguard this right to freedom from dispossession, protect vulnerable groups and compensate, resettle or provide for restitution where dispossession takes place.

Public goods & services

The right to adequate housing cannot be effectively realized without access to public goods and services, including, water, health-care, transport, fuel, sanitation, lighting and electricity, sewerage and waste disposal. The services must be adequate in that they are based on the needs of the community and the government must effectively regulate service distribution so as to avoid corruption. It must also ensure sufficient infrastructure. Where private industry is contracted for either provision or maintenance, government remains responsible for the effective functioning of private actors.

Environmental goods & services (natural resources, land & water)

Every community must have access to natural resources necessary for its survival and livelihood, including, inter alia, fuel, fodder, water and building materials. Access to natural resources must be sufficient to meet community needs and the state must effectively regulate distribution and ensure the efficient delivery of same.

Land is a resource integral to survival, livelihood and adequate housing. To this end, the state must ensure reasonable access to land. In particular, the state must provide for equitable distribution with emphasis on the provision of necessary resources for poor households and other marginalized and vulnerable groups. Governments must implement land reforms where necessary to ensure its fair distribution as a public good and protect the landed property rights of land-based and indigenous peoples from encroachment.

Potable water is integral and essential to the rights to life, health and adequate housing. The state must ensure that clean and safe water is reliably accessible and provided in adequate supply for individual, family and community use. The state should enable agricultural communities not be denied water by any external source, and should assist citizens of all communities meet their water needs. The state must take effective measures to ensure the absence of water-borne pathogens and pollutants, and must protect against environmental degradation of water supply (water table). It must also ensure that adequate infrastructure is in place so as to ensure sufficiency, affordability and easy access.

An adequate place to live must be free from harm or threat of harm from natural or man-made disaster, and environmental pollutants, disease vectors and other avoidable hazards. The environment must provide access to natural resources, including food, fodder, water, and building materials, and reasonable recreational opportunities in nearby areas similarly free of such menacing conditions.

Affordability, finance

Individuals and communities should have access to affordable housing and must have the corresponding right to livelihood so as to be able to afford decent housing. To this end, the state must ensure, through subsidies or market regulation, that a maximum of one-third of any household income be required to obtain adequate housing. Moreover, the state must effectively regulate the operation of private actors that influence the affordability of adequate housing.

Individuals and communities must have access to financial resources including, inter alia, wages, loans, grants, cooperative schemes and subsidies, in order to secure an adequate place to live. The state must ensure that finance is sufficiently available on an equitable basis, and finance options must be responsive to diverse needs and ensure sufficiency. Laws, policies and regulations must facilitate such access, particularly for vulnerable and marginal groups, and those who are victims of the injustices of historic discrimination


Adequate housing must provide needed space to live in dignity and peace. It must also provide protection from natural elements, structural hazards and disease vectors that are threats to physical well-being. The physical conditions of the home can affect the realisation of other rights, including the highest attainable standard of mental and physical health, as well as education, whereas the lack of conditions are not conducive to learning (especially for children).

Accessibility (physical)

Disadvantaged communities and groups must be allowed full and sustainable access to adequate housing and resources, including land, infrastructure and sources of livelihood and the state must take account of special housing needs. Disadvantaged groups within communities must be guaranteed equality in respect of the conditions that constitute adequate housing and the state must ensure this equality of right and access.


Adequate housing must be in a place that enables access to employment, primary health-care, education and other social services and civic amenities. The financial and temporal cost of transport must not place excessive financial and other demands on the household. In addition, both rural and urban housing must be in a location that is safe, particularly from environmental hazards and pollutants.

Cultural appropriateness

Housing configuration, spatial design and site/community organization should be determined locally and in harmony with a community’s cultural preferences and attributes. The state must enable cultural expression and diversity and should ensure the participation of all cultural/religious groups in planning.

Information, education, capacity & capacity building

Individuals and communities must have access to appropriate data, documents and intellectual resources that impact upon their right to obtain adequate housing. Having access to appropriate data means being informed about potential industrial and natural hazards, infrastructure, planning design, availability of services and natural resources and other factors that affect the right. The state has the obligation to ensure that laws and policies facilitate such access and ward against denial of the right to adequate housing. Unimpeded opportunity and reasonable means for public debate and expression with respect of the process of government, administration and finance procedures, market mechanisms and the activities of the private sector and others engaged in the housing sphere are presupposed in a democratic society.

Individuals and communities should have access to technical assistance and other means to enable them to improve their living standards and fully realise their economic, cultural and social rights and development potential. The state, for its part, should endeavour to promote and provide for catalysts and mechanisms for the same, including efforts to ensure that all citizens are aware of procedural measures available toward defending and realizing her/his right to adequate housing. This concept is sometimes also referred to as “empowerment,” which is defined as “a process that enhances the ability of disadvantaged (‘powerless’) individuals or groups to challenge and change (in their favour) existing power relationships that place them in subordinate economic, social and political positions” [Agarwal 1994: 39].

Participation & self-expression

Effective participation in decision making is essential to the fulfillment of all other rights, as well as the elements of the right to housing (Shue 1996). At all levels of the decision-making process in respect of the provision of and right to adequate housing, individuals and communities must be able to express and share their views, they must be consulted and be able to contribute substantively to such processes. The state must ensure access to decision-making centres and effectively combat fraudulent and corrupt practices.

In respect of the right to adequate housing, the right to self-expression includes the right effectively and substantively to participate in decisions that affect housing, including, inter alia, location, spatial dimensions, links to community, social capital and livelihood, housing configuration and other practical features. The state must ensure that building and housing laws and policies to not preclude free expression, including cultural and religious diversity. Moreover, the right to self-expression must be respected, protected, promoted and fulfilled to ensure harmonious and effective design, implementation and maintenance of the community, for which necessarily addressing the interests of multiple parties is only possible through cooperation in consideration of their views.

Movement, resettlement, nonrefoulement, return & restitution

Movement and resettlement may be essential to survival in the case of natural or human-made disaster. Therefore, the congruent right to freedom of movement can be a prerequisite to the fulfillment of all other rights. Any resettlement arrangement, whatever the cause, must be consensual, fair and adequate to meet individual and collective needs. It must provide sufficient access to the sources of livelihood, productive land, infrastructure, social services and civic amenities. Moreover, there must also be fair and adequate restitution and/or compensation for losses, particularly when human caused.

Security (physical) & privacy

Every man, woman, youth and child has the right to live and conduct her/his private life in a secure place and be protected from threats or acts that compromise their mental and/or physical well-being or integrity. The State must address the security needs of the community once determined, in particular the needs of women, the elderly, children and other vulnerable individuals and groups. The State must then ensure physical security to the extent possible, refraining from threat to, or interference in personal and private activity in the home that does not infringe upon the corresponding rights of others. However, domestic violence, in particular, all forms of violence against women and child abuse must be prosecuted as any other violent crime.

Source: HLRN Toolkit 2005