The World's Story is Yours to Tell
According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, International human rights law recognizes everyone’s right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate housing. Despite the central placeof this right within the global legal system, well over a billion people are not adequately housed. Millions around the world live in life- or health-threatening conditions, in overcrowded slums and informal settlements, or in other conditions which do not uphold their human rights and their dignity.
Further millions are forcibly evicted, or threatened with forced eviction, from their homes every year.
Adequate housing was recognized as part of the right to an adequate standard of living in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Other international human rights treaties have since recognized or referred to the right to adequate housing or some elements of it, such as the protection of one’s home and privacy.
The right to adequate housing is relevant to all States, as they have all ratified at least one international treaty referring to adequate housing and committed themselves to protecting the right to adequate housing through international declarations, plans of action or conference outcome documents. Several constitutions protect the right to adequate housing or outline the State’s general responsibility to ensure adequate housing and living conditions for all. Courts from various legal systems have also adjudicated cases related to its enjoyment, covering, for instance, forced evictions, tenant protection, discrimination in the housing sphere or access to basic housing-related services.
Increased international attention has also been paid to the right to adequate housing, including by human rights treaty bodies, regional human rights mechanisms and the Commission on Human Rights (now
replaced by the Human Rights Council), which created the mandate of “Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living” in 2000. These initiatives have helped to clarify the scope and content of the right to adequate housing.
This Fact Sheet starts by explaining what the right to adequate housing is, illustrates what it means for specific individuals and groups, and then elaborates upon States’ related obligations. It concludes with an overview of national, regional and international accountability and monitoring mechanisms.
This joint OHCHR/UN-Habitat Fact Sheet is the second in a series of joint publications by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights with other United Nations partners to focus on economic, social and cultural rights. The first was the Fact Sheet on the Right to Health, issued jointly with the World Health Organization, and a joint fact sheet with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations on the right to food is forthcoming.
I. WHAT IS THE RIGHT TO ADEQUATE HOUSING?
A. Key aspects of the right to adequate housing
The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has underlined that the right to adequate housing should not be interpreted narrowly. Rather, it should be seen as the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity. The characteristics of the right to adequate
housing are clarified mainly in the Committee’s general comments No. 4 (1991) on the right to adequate housing and No. 7 (1997) on forced evictions.1
• The right to adequate housing contains freedoms. These freedoms include:
Protection against forced evictions and the arbitrary destruction
and demolition of one’s home;
The right to be free from arbitrary interference with one’s home,
privacy and family; and
The right to choose one’s residence, to determine where to live
and to freedom of movement.
• The right to adequate housing contains entitlements. These
Security of tenure;
Housing, land and property restitution;
Equal and non-discriminatory access to adequate housing;
Participation in housing-related decision-making at the national
and community levels.
• Adequate housing must provide more than four walls and a
roof. A number of conditions must be met before particular forms
of shelter can be considered to constitute “adequate housing.”
These elements are just as fundamental as the basic supply and
availability of housing. For housing to be adequate, it must, at a
minimum, meet the following criteria:
1 General comments are adopted by the treaty bodies based on their monitoring experience.
They offer expert guidance to States on their obligations arising under a particular treaty.
Security of tenure: housing is not adequate if its occupants do
not have a degree of tenure security which guarantees legal
protection against forced evictions, harassment and other
Availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure:
housing is not adequate if its occupants do not have safe drinking
water, adequate sanitation, energy for cooking, heating, lighting,
food storage or refuse disposal.
Affordability: housing is not adequate if its cost threatens or
compromises the occupants’ enjoyment of other human rights.
Habitability: housing is not adequate if it does not guarantee
physical safety or provide adequate space, as well as protection
against the cold, damp, heat, rain, wind, other threats to health
and structural hazards.
Accessibility: housing is not adequate if the specific needs of
disadvantaged and marginalized groups are not taken into
Location: housing is not adequate if it is cut off from employment
opportunities, health-care services, schools, childcare centres
and other social facilities, or if located in polluted or dangerous
Cultural adequacy: housing is not adequate if it does not respect
and take into account the expression of cultural identity.
• Protection against forced evictions. Protection against forced
evictions is a key element of the right to adequate housing and is
closely linked to security of tenure.
Forced evictions are defined as the “permanent or temporary
removal against their will of individuals, families and/or communities
from the homes and/or land which they occupy, without the
provision of, and access to, appropriate forms of legal or other
protection.”2 According to the United Nations Human Settlements
Programme (UN-Habitat), at least 2 million people in the world are
forcibly evicted every year, while millions are threatened with forced
2 General comment 7, which goes on to note that “the prohibition on forced evictions
does not, however, apply to evictions carried out by force in accordance with the law
and in conformity with the provisions of the International Covenants on Human Rights”
3 UN-Habitat, Global Report on Human Settlements 2007: Enhancing Urban Safety and
Security (Nairobi, 2007).
Forced evictions are carried out in a variety of circumstances and for
a variety of reasons, for instance, to make way for development and
infrastructure projects, urban redevelopment or city beautification,
or prestigious international events, as a result of conflicts over land
rights, armed conflicts or societal patterns of discrimination. Forced
evictions tend to be violent and disproportionately affect the poor,
who often suffer further human rights violations as a result. In
many instances, forced evictions compound the problem they were
ostensibly aimed at solving.
Regardless of their cause, forced evictions may be considered a
gross violation of human rights and a prima facie violation of the
right to adequate housing. Large-scale evictions can in general be
justified only in the most exceptional circumstances and only if they
take place in accordance with the relevant principles of international
Safeguards in the case of evictions
If eviction may be justifiable, because the tenant persistently fails
to pay rent or damages the property without reasonable cause,
the State must ensure that it is carried out in a lawful, reasonable
and proportional manner, and in accordance with international
law. Effective legal recourses and remedies should be available to
those who are evicted, including adequate compensation for any
real or personal property affected by the eviction. Evictions should
not result in individuals becoming homeless or vulnerable to further
human rights violations.
In general, international human rights law requires Governments
to explore all feasible alternatives before carrying out any eviction,
so as to avoid, or at least minimize, the need to use force. When
evictions are carried out as a last resort, those affected must be
afforded effective procedural guarantees, which may have a
deterrent effect on planned evictions. These include:
An opportunity for genuine consultation;
Adequate and reasonable notice;
Availability of information on the proposed eviction in reasonable
Presence of Government officials or their representatives during
Proper identification of persons carrying out the eviction;
Prohibition on carrying out evictions in bad weather or at night;
Availability of legal remedies;
Availability of legal aid to those in need to be able to seek judicial
Other international human rights treaties that recognize the right
to adequate housing
• The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (art. 21)
• The International Labour Organization’s 1962 Convention No. 117 concerning
Basic Aims and Standards of Social Policy (art. 5 (2))
• The 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Racial Discrimination (art. 5 (e)(iii))
• The 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (art. 17)
• The 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
against Women (arts. 14 (2) and 15 (2))
• The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (arts. 16 (1) and
• The International Labour Organization’s 1989 Convention No. 169 concerning
Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries (arts.
14, 16 and 17)
• The 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All
Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (art. 43 (1)(d))
• The 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (arts. 9