Right to property

  • Under the European Convention on Human Rights, people have the right to possess property that is lawfully theirs. Governments cannot take property away without proper reasons - and neither can other people.
  • For example, if a government takes land away from someone for public use, the former owner has to be properly compensated.
  • Judgments from the Strasbourg court have helped people recover houses and money that had been unlawfully taken away. They have also led countries to create rules to make sure that the right to property is protected.




Woman wins legal fight to get her apartment back

The Azerbaijani courts backed the eviction of a family of internally displaced persons who were squatting Valentina Akimova’s apartment, but postponed any action being taken. The European Court of Human Rights found this to be unlawful and in breach of Valentina’s right to property. Thanks to the European court’s judgment, Valentina was able to get her apartment back.

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Vulnerable victims of domestic violence gain exemption from “bedroom tax”

A woman at severe risk of domestic violence faced eviction from her specially-adapted home because cuts to housing benefits meant she could no longer afford the rent. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the woman was discriminated against because of her gender. The UK then changed the law to exempt women like her from changes to the benefit rules.

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Tens of thousands of people compensated over World War II property claims

Jerzy Broniowski waited over 60 years to be compensated for the property his grandmother was forced to abandon at the end of the Second World War. Justice was finally delivered when a European court judgment led Poland to properly compensate Jerzy and many others like him. It was the first time the court used a special procedure designed to deal with widespread and systemic problems.

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Fair compensation for victims of infected blood scandal

The European court ruled that Italy’s decision to stop victims from receiving inflation-adjusted compensation breached their human rights. Many relied on the payments to cover ongoing medical costs. The court’s ‘pilot judgment’ found that many others had potentially been affected by the decision, resulting in Italy making back payments totalling hundreds of millions of euros to victims.

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Millions paid in compensation to families whose lands were seized under communism

Following the collapse of communism, Albania decided that compensation should be granted to people who had rightful claims to lands seized under the communist regime. But most of the money was never paid. In response to a ‘pilot judgment’ from the European court, identifying a widespread problem in the country, Albania created a new, efficient compensation scheme and paid out millions to...

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Bosnian war widow wins legal battle to reclaim her family’s lost property

After fleeing the horrors of war, genocide survivor Fata Orlović returned to her home near Srebrenica, only to find that a church had been built on her land. Over the next two decades, Fata fought tenaciously to get the land back. Her legal battle ended in victory at the European Court of Human Rights. The court’s judgment caused Bosnia and Herzegovina to finally remove the church.

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Homeowner compensated for collapsed property in environmental hazard zone

Detonations from an open-pit coalmine shook Dimitar Yordanov’s home after the state failed to rehouse him and his family. The European court found Bulgaria responsible for the fact that the house remained in an environmental hazard zone, in breach of Dimitar’s right to property. The court awarded him compensation for the house that he was ultimately forced to abandon.

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Thousands of people win right to recover ‘old’ foreign-currency savings

Thousands of people could not access their ‘old’ foreign currency savings for decades after the breakup of Yugoslavia. The European court ruled that Serbia and Slovenia’s delay in enabling savers to recover their funds had breached their rights. It ordered both countries to make changes to allow depositors to access their savings. Serbia and Slovenia then set up successful repayment schemes.

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Reforms introduced after failure to pay compensation to Chernobyl rescue worker

Anatoliy Burdov was exposed to radiation whilst working on the emergency response to the Chernobyl disaster. He was entitled to certain social benefits, but the authorities refused to pay - even when ordered to do so by Russian courts. The European court said that this violated Mr Burdov’s rights. As a result, reforms were introduced to improve the enforcement of judgments.

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Widow wins fight for husband’s property confiscated by the police

When Karol Rummi’s husband died, his valuable possessions were arbitrarily confiscated by the police. When Mrs Rummi tried to get them back, she was not allowed to make her case in court and told that the property now belonged to the state. The European court ruled that her right to property had been breached. She was compensated and the law was changed to prevent similar problems happening again.

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98 year-old wins decades-long fight for property seized by the Communist regime

After the fall of communism in Romania, laws were passed giving people the right to claim back property nationalised by the old regime. Tens of thousands of people made such claims, but a huge number faced delays and failures to deal with their applications. The European court ruled that the system must be reformed – leading to a new law which made the restitution system more effective.

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Reforms after bank refused to pay out pensioner’s savings

Ruža Jeličić was a citizen of the former Yugoslavia. She worked in Germany in the 1970s and 80s and kept savings of German marks in a bank in the former Yugoslavia. However, along with thousands of others with foreign currency savings, she was banned from withdrawing the money after moving back home. After Mrs Jeličić stopped working and her husband died, she had no money to live on.

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New compensation rules after villagers forced from their homes to live in extreme poverty

The government evicted the inhabitants of a small village for counter-terrorism purposes. They were not allowed to return for over 10 years. In the meantime, they were given no alternative housing or money, and they lived in extreme poverty. The Strasbourg court ruled that their rights had been violated. A new law introduced compensation for damages suffered during anti-terrorist activities.

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Changes to fair compensation laws after families were forced to give up their land

Two families owned some land in Thessaloniki. The authorities took away part of the land to carry out public works - but the families were paid only a fraction of the land’s true value. The Strasbourg court found that this violated their right to property. Greek case-law was subsequently changed, requiring courts to properly compensate people when their property is expropriated.

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Woman forced to allow hunting on her land against her beliefs

Catherine Schneider was ethically opposed to hunting, but she was forced to allow it on her land under an old law. The Strasbourg court ruled that forcing her to be part of a hunting syndicate breached her basic rights. The law was changed to allow people to follow their conscience on hunting.

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  Council of Europe webpage on criminal justice reform

  Handbook on Human Rights and Criminal Procedure PDF (2,150 Mo)

Factsheets on the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights:

 Measures adopted and reported by States (Execution of judgments) PDF (996 Ko)