Secure tenure is one of Solid Ground’s four campaign subthemes. Security of tenure is the right to feel safe in one’s own home and to not be arbitrarily or forcibly evicted.

Tenure policies and laws define how access to the housing environment is allocated, transferred, controlled and managed. That’s why the Solid Ground campaign is committed to advocating for laws and policies that promote security of tenure for communities around the world. Based on our own experiences advocating for secure tenure globally, and that of our partners, Solid Ground is promoting several principles that drive our advocacy and policy work to achieve secure tenure.

We believe that policies should acknowledge a continuum of land rights and that governments should recognize legitimate land right holders. Land tenure is frequently understood in binary terms: formal or informal, legal or extra-legal, secure or insecure; however, in practice, a wide and complex spectrum of appropriate, legitimate tenure arrangements exists between these extremities. These can be documented as well as undocumented, formal as well as informal, for individuals as well as for groups, including pastoralists and residents of slums and other settlements. Opportunities should be provided within this full range of tenure rights that constitute legally enforceable claims to be enforced, asserted and defended in forum such as a court.

An incremental strategy focusing first on increasing the perception of tenure security and moving slowly toward formal, legally protected tenure security is most effective. For example, Habitat for Humanity Cambodia has implemented a project in urban Battambang in collaboration with the Cambodian government that aims to incrementally move informal settlers toward greater tenure security through the Social Land Concessions. Social Land Concessions were unveiled by the Cambodian government in March 2003 to deal with the problem of landlessness and is a legal mechanism established in the Land Law 2001 to permit the orderly transfer of state private land to private individuals or groups for social purposes, specifically, for residential and family farming. The policy guarantees informal settlers’ continuous occupation or use of the land for a 5-year period and under certain conditions as a vehicle towards greater tenure security.

We believe that policies should be inclusive, pro-poor and fit-for-purpose. Lack of secure tenure often lies at the heart of poverty housing, depriving residents of even the most basic physical, economic and psychological security that comes with adequate shelter. The failure to adopt appropriate and pro-poor land policies and land management practices remains a primary cause of inequity and poverty, and sometimes conflict. However, when families perceive their tenure to be secure, they are more likely to invest in home and neighborhood improvements.

A decade ago, the housing crisis in Honduras looked insurmountable. Many families in Honduras lived in shacks made from whatever scraps of wood or metal they could cobble together. Now, a decade later, Habitat for Humanity Honduras has seen significant strides in creating new pro-poor and fit-for-purpose policies for secure tenure at the municipal level, making safe, stable and affordable homes a reality for more and more Hondurans each day.

We believe that laws should prioritize the most vulnerable groups and women. Insecurity of tenure leads to increased living costs, the occupation of hazard-prone land, environmental degradation and the increased vulnerability of urban and rural habitats, affecting all people, especially disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.

Around the world, women are routinely and systematically denied equal rights to access, use, inherit, control and own land. Secure land rights are a central factor in ensuring adequate, stable housing for women and their families. Secure property rights also give women greater influence over household income and decision making, which has been shown to reduce household poverty and benefit the family as a whole.

We believe that governments should not pursue evictions in situations of limited tenure regulation. Lack of secure tenure contributes to forced evictions, social exclusion and the violation of human rights. Governments may forcibly evict communities to make room for development or revitalization projects. During such projects, land and property values increase due to new developments or renewal programs in the proximity of where poor people live. This usually leads to increased living costs in the area and forces poor, previously established residents and businesses to move or relocate to places with lower living costs.

The Polish government’s national revitalization program, for example, sought to renovate old homes. After realizing that this could exacerbate effects of gentrification and lead to evictions of old communal tenants, Habitat for Humanity Poland worked in coalition to secure the tenants’ rights to return to the renovated homes.

As a result, the National Revitalization Act that passed in October 2015 ensures continuation of leases for current residents and requires that residents be informed of their tenancy rights improving security of tenure for up to 240,000 tenants living in low-income social housing. 

We believe that policies should build the capacity of local land information systems. Many local governments lack the capacity and resources to create or maintain a cadastre or a land information system, thus, hindering their ability to issue and store land titles. Without a cadastre or legally recognized land information system, residents cannot formally receive or prove ownership, decreasing security of tenure. Building capacity of local cadastre systems is an effective strategy to increase tenure security.

For example, Habitat for Humanity Côte d’Ivoire is working closely with local authorities and the broader community to build a simple and effective system to issue land certificates. Habitat Côte d’Ivoire helped local leaders set up a land registration system and is supporting the registration process and collection of the necessary supporting documents from applicants, increasing secure tenure for over 98,000 people.

Read more about the reality of those living without secure land tenure and about the progress that has been made in our secure tenure issue brief.