Shedding Light on Haiti’s Land Systems

By Liz Blake, Habitat for Humanity International’s senior vice president of advocacy, government affairs and general counsel

Imagine, for a moment, each day you worry you might be evicted from your home. What if you’ve lived in the same place for years, but can’t prove ownership of your land or dwelling because the legal process is too complex, corrupt or bureaucratic?

What if you are tasked with building your company’s next factory oversees and you hear Haiti has low labor costs and favorable tax treaties? Would you choose to invest when it is unclear if the land you are building on is truly yours?

Uncertainty about land tenure continues to hamper Haiti’s ability to grow following the 2010 earthquake and is prohibiting the country from realizing its full potential.

In response, Habitat for Humanity International, along with Architecture for Humanity, helped found a diverse working group to help clarify and bring consistency to buying and selling land in Haiti. This transparency is creating new opportunities for redevelopment, economic investment and more secure land tenure.

The Haiti Property Law Working Group is composed of nearly 100 stakeholders and includes Haitian government officials, legal experts, donor agencies, businesses and other NGOs. Meeting every four to six weeks since June 2011, the group is creating a series of how-to guides to explain how the legal and customary land processes work.

The first manual, A How-to Guide for the Legal Sale of Property in Haiti, was published last fall in French and English with training materials on the manual available in Creole. To ensure accuracy, drafts of the manual were circulated and regional stakeholder meetings were held throughout Haiti.

The group has begun drafting a second volume to provide guidance on the regularization of government and third party land. The second manual should help with securing tenure for informal settlements and the resettlements of camp dwellers. Finally, the group intends to use its gained expertise to develop meaningful policy recommendations for improvements to Haiti’s land laws and regulations.

Land tenure is complex, particularly after a natural disaster. Haiti is not alone in struggling with these issues. Any successful resettlement though depends upon the government and the international community helping Haitians solve land disputes and ensuring residents’ right to live on the land. While the Haiti Property Law Working Group is contributing only a piece of the land puzzle, the manuals provide a roadmap and one path forward.

To learn more about Habitat’s work in Haiti and to read A How-to Guide for the Legal Sale of Property in Haiti, please visit