Right to housing

What is the right to housing?

The right to housing is the right to live in a sufficiently secure and peaceful place without fear of arbitrary destruction or eviction. 

note The right to housing is not a right to ‘the roof over one’s head’. 

It is called a right to adequate housing because it is closely associated with the concept of human dignity. 

How to determine if housing is adequate?

Adequate housing has the following characteristics: 

1. Legal security of tenure: property may be rented or owned, public or private, but all persons should have legal guarantees against forced eviction.

2. Availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure: this refers to all necessary facilities for decent life - safe drinking water, energy for cooking, electricity, heating, sanitation and so on.

3. Affordability: costs related to housing must not leave a person on the verge of poverty, it must not threaten the fulfilment of a person’s basic needs.

4. Habitability: adequate housing must protect a person’s physical safety from cold, heat, rain, wind or other environmental threats.

5. Accessibility: it should be possible to reach one’s housing. This is especially relevant for vulnerable groups: elderly persons, persons with mobility issues, terminally ill patients, etc.  

6. Location: it should be possible to access one’s place of employment, hospitals, schools, etc. at a cost proportionate to a person’s (or family’s) income. Housing also must not be located in a dangerous or polluted area.

7. Cultural adequacy: housing should be appropriate for the society that uses it. Housing is not just a need, but also an expression of a person’s or a group’s identity, so it must correspond to it. 

Who protects this right?

As the State is the main guarantor of human rights, it must take steps towards the realisation of this right. 

More specifically, the State has three types of obligations:

1. The obligation to respect means that the State should not violate or interfere with this right. Thus, the following conduct is prohibited:

  • forced evictions
  • discriminatory policies related to housing
  • denying housing

2. The obligation to protect means that the State should prevent violations by other parties. It includes: 

  • adopting relevant legislation
  • regulating the housing and rental markets 
  • ensuring that private actors (e.g., energy companies, providers or water supply, etc.) do not interfere with the right to housing

3. The obligation to fulfil requires the state to adopt a set of measures to ensure the realisation of this right. It includes:

  • adopting a national housing policy
  • preventing homelessness
  • providing housing subsidies

What if the State does not have enough resources? 

The right to housing does not mean that the State has to build free housing for all its population. 

The core of this right is non-discrimination: everyone has the right to live in decent conditions. Accordingly, the state’s primary action should be addressing discrimination in housing-related matters and preventing homelessness. 

International recognition of this right

Wars lead not only to the loss of lives but also to the loss of homes. Housing gets destroyed or is no longer safe, forcing people to leave.  Losing one’s home is always traumatic and leads to the loss of other rights. 

The first catalogue of human rights adopted shortly after the Second World War, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides in Article 25(1): 

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

The right to adequate housing is also recognised in other international conventions. 

In context

Sources

Last updated 21/03/2024