The Right to Housing been codified by a wide range of International legal instruments under the umbrella of the United Nations. These include the:




The first important document that codified the right to adequate housing is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948. Article 25 (1) states:

"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 Declaration has been signed by all 192 member states of the United Nations, although it is not a binding treaty.




The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) was adopted in 1966 and has been ratified by 153 States. It is the most important instrument at UN level that enshrines the right to housing. Article 11 (1) is the most comprehensive provision in this context. It states:

"The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right, recognizing to this effect the essential importance of international cooperation based on free consent."

States party to the Covenant are bound to specific State Obligations under the ICESCR

General Comments:

The specific elements of the right to housing have been further developed in two main general comments adopted by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1991 and 1997:

General comment No. 4:  The right to adequate housing (art. 11 (1) of the Covenant)
General comment No. 7:  The right to adequate housing (art. 11 (1) of the Covenant):  Forced evictions

The Committee is also responsible for Monitoring of the implementation of the provisions of the ICESCR.


Important :


Since May 2013, the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (OP-ICESCR) has been entering into force. It is an international treaty that allows victims of violation of economic, social and cultural rights, to present complaints at the international level. When people cannot access justice in the courts of their country for violations of economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR), they can bring a complaint to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR). However, their country must first become a party to the OP-ICESCR treaty through ratification or accession. The OP-ICESCR is also a powerful tool for advocacy. All States parties to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) have the obligation to respect, protect and fulfill ESCR.


Who Can Present a Complaint?

  • Individuals or groups of individuals, who allege to be victims of violations of the ICESCR and who have not found effective remedies within their own country, can file a complaint. In addition, third persons may file complaints on behalf of these individuals or groups of individuals with their consent.
  • Third persons may file complaints on behalf of presumed victims, without their consent, but must justify acting on their behalf.

The Optional Protocol includes three procedures: a complaints  procedure, an inquiries procedure and an inter-states procedure. For more details, click here.

On September 17th, 2015, UN Committee on ESCR issued for the first time recommandations to Spain about right to housing, in response to an individual complaint and the intervention of ESCR-Net based on the OP-ICESCR. To know more, read the article here.

On September 2015, the following countries had ratified the OP-ICESCR: Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cabo Verde, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Finland, France, Gabon, Italy, Luxembourg, Mongolia, Montenegro, Niger, Portugal, San Marino, Slovakia, Spain and Uruguay.

To learn how to promote the ratification of OP-ICESCR in your country, click here. To read the mobilisation Kit for the OP-ICESCR, click here.



Provisions contained in several other UN Treaties relate to the right to housing, such as:



Special rapporteurs



There are in the UN some mechanisms to take care either of a country’s specific issue or of thematic issues in every part of the world. Among those mechanisms, called « special procedures », we find the Special rapporteurs.

Special rapporteurs are in charge of holding inquiries  into violations and  to intervene on specific issues or urgent situations. They therefore play an important role in the protection of human rights. They are independent, sit individually and cannot be appointed more than six years. Their mission is to study and draft a report on a country’s situation about a human right issue.

For that purpose, special rapporteurs visit countries. They can decide to visit a State for themselves or further to specific allegations about human rights violations related to their mandates.

Special rapporteurs use a wide variety of information’s sources. They conduct part of their research in concerned countries, discuss with authorities and victims and collect proofs on the ground. After their visit, the holder of special procedures’ mandates presents a mission report with his/her conclusions and recommendations.

Some Special rapporteurs are in charge of receiving information from different sources: governments, intergovernmental organisations, non-­‐governmental organisations, victims of human rights violations and witnesses. When they receive reliable information on a human rights’ violation related to their mandate, they can discuss directly with the governments concerned. 

Contact the concerned Special rapporteur if you consider that a human rights violation took place, exists or might occur in your country.


Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context

As defined by the first Special Rapporteur, “the human right to adequate housing is the right of every woman, man, youth and child to gain and sustain a safe and secure home and community in which to live in peace and dignity”. This definition is in line with the core elements of the right to adequate housing as defined by General Comment No. 4 of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (the body in charge of monitoring the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the States which are party to it). According to the Committee, while adequacy is determined in part by social, economic, cultural, climatic, ecological and other factors, it is nevertheless possible to identify certain aspects of the right that must be taken into account for this purpose in any particular context. They include the following:

  • Legal security of tenure
  • Availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure
  • Affordability
  • Habitability
  • Accessibility
  • Location and
  • Cultural adequacy.

Special rapporteur on adequate housing: Ms. Leilani Farha (Canada)-Appointed in May 2014, assumed her function 2 June 2014.


Contacts :


Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights

Philip Alston, John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law, was appointed Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights on May 7 2014. An authority on international law and international human rights law, Alston is a faculty director and co-chair of NYU Law’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. From 1996 to 2007, he was editor-in-chief of the European Journal of International Law. Before coming to the Law School he was a professor of international law at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy.

With this mandate Alston will investigate and report back to UN member states on initiatives to promote and protect the human rights of people living in extreme poverty. Alston will be tasked with making recommendations on how those in extreme poverty can play a part in defining measures that affect them; studying the impact of discrimination, with particular attention to women, children, the disabled, and other vulnerable groups; and fostering cooperation with UN bodies and international conferences addressing extreme poverty.


Contact details:


Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation was established to examine these crucial issues and provide recommendations to Governments, to the United Nations and other stakeholders. Ms. Catarina de Albuquerque was appointed in September 2008, and began her work on the mandate in November 2008.

Catarina de Albuquerque was the first UN Special Rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation (formerly Independent Expert). She was appointed by the Human Rights Council in September 2008, having started her mandate on 1 November that year. Between 2004 and 2008 she presided over the negotiations of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which the UN General Assembly approved by consensus on 10 December 2008.




Country visits

In situ examination of the progress in and obstacles to the realization of the right to adequate housing by conducting country visits is an essential component of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.

The general objectives of such missions are:

  • to examine and report on the status of the realization of housing rights in the country, with particular attention to aspects of gender equality and non-discrimination and the protection of the poor, the vulnerable and minorities;
  • to engage in dialogues with the Government, United Nations and intergovernmental agencies and civil society in their efforts to secure these rights;
  • to identify practical solutions and best practices in the realization of rights relevant to the mandate;
  • to follow up on relevant concluding observations made by treaty bodies and other international bodies and assess their impacts on policies adopted by the countries concerned.

Furthermore, depending on the particular country context, the mission may have a specific thematic focus on priority issues that the Special Rapporteur has identified.


Contact the special rapporteur directly to invite them fora visit in your country. For more information on upcoming visits please visit the webpage of the special rapporteur.


Human rights